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Is Misdiagnosis Medical Negligence?

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If you receive a misdiagnosis from a medical professional and this causes you harm, you may be able to claim medical negligence.

But to make a medical negligence claim, you will need to prove that the misdiagnosis represents a breach in duty of care towards you and that it is the cause of your injury or loss.

What are the Common Types of Misdiagnosis?

There are two broad types of medical misdiagnosis:

  • Incorrect or missed misdiagnosis – where a medical professional fails to identify and diagnose symptoms of a condition, or identifies the wrong condition
  • Late or delayed diagnosis – where a medical professional misses a patient’s condition at first and only diagnoses this correctly at a more advanced stage of their illness.

In an incorrect or missed diagnosis, the illness or condition may get worse, affecting the patient’s life significantly. In certain circumstances, this worsening due to incorrect or missed diagnosis may lead to the death of the patient.

In a late or delayed diagnosis, there may be a delay to the patient’s recovery as a result, or, in some cases, the patient may find they have a reduced life expectancy.

Misdiagnosis can involve many different situations and conditions, but more common types include:

  • Misdiagnosis of a serious condition for something much less serious, causing a delay in your treatment
  • An incorrect diagnosis leading to you receiving the wrong treatment
  • You undergoing unnecessary surgery as a result of misdiagnosis
  • A wrong diagnosis leads to a deterioration in your mental wellbeing, impacting you psychologically.

An NHS or private medical professional may make a misdiagnosis. Your GP could misinterpret test results, for example, or fail to examine you properly. You could find yourself referred to the wrong specialist for your condition, or not be referred to a specialist at all.  Misdiagnosis costs the NHS over £580 million in compensation.

What Conditions Can Misdiagnosis Involve?

Common conditions that medical professionals misdiagnose are:

  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Meningitis
  • Appendicitis
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Subarachnoid haemorrhage.

Often, misdiagnosis applies to illnesses that are difficult to detect, or have symptoms similar to other illnesses. Where these similarities occur, the professional making the diagnosis may mistake one condition for another.

A misdiagnosis for cancer, diabetes, or meningitis can have serious and even fatal consequences, but it’s also important to note that misdiagnosis can cover a broad range of conditions, causing harm to the individuals who receive them.

How do You Know if a Misdiagnosis Counts as Medical Negligence?

As in other clinical or medical negligence cases, if you’re making the claim, the burden of proof is on you. The injury you’ve suffered must fall within the legal definition of medical negligence.

You must prove that:

  • The medical professional making the misdiagnosis has broken their duty of care toward you
  • The physical or mental injuries you’ve suffered would not have occurred otherwise.

If, for example, someone dies as a result of a medical condition and no medical intervention could have prevented this death, then even if a doctor failed to diagnose the condition, medical negligence will not apply.

On the other hand, if a patient goes to the doctor with stomach pains, the doctor fails to identify appendicitis as the cause, and the patient later dies as a result of a burst appendix, then medical negligence should apply.

You must establish causation to make a successful medical negligence claim.

How Long Does it Take to Settle a Claim Based on Misdiagnosis?

Generally, the time limit for making a claim is three years, if you’re a mentally capable adult. This date applies from either when the negligence occurred, or when you first suffered an injury as a result of it.

But the claim process itself can vary in length. Relatively straightforward claims involving hospitals make take around 18 months to two years.

Claims that go to court will take longer, from three years to six years or more in some complex cases.

The NHS tries to settle out of court. Fewer than 2% of negligence cases handled by NHS Resolution, the body that represents the NHS, end up in court.

How Do You Make a Claim for Medical Misdiagnosis?

If you think you’ve been injured as a result of negligent medical treatment, including misdiagnosis, then you may be able to claim compensation. You can also make a medical claim on behalf of someone who’s died if you are next of kin or a dependent.

To take this legal action, you don’t have to follow the NHS complaints procedure, but it can be helpful at a later date in providing documentary evidence to support your claim.

However, medical negligence claims can be complex, because often there are many different factors involved, and establishing causation means gathering lots of technical evidence and expert opinion.

For more information about making a medical negligence claim based on misdiagnosis, please call us on 0800 088 6004, or complete our online contact form, and we will be in touch as soon as possible.

Gemma Pabari


Gemma Pabari


Gemma is a Solicitor within the Medical Negligence Team. Gemma has experience in advising on a range of Medical Negligence claims, to include delays in diagnosing and treating Cauda Equina Syndrome, representing clients on matters arising from complications with pregnancy.