Our lack of knowledge about how our body works and the possible conditions associated with how we feel makes us put our trust and health into the hands of healthcare professionals. If you are feeling ill or unwell, you trust that a GP or another medical professional will evaluate your symptoms and give you the correct treatment to help you return to a state of well-being.
In most cases, patients receive a correct diagnosis and treatment and will return to feeling well soon if they don’t have serious health problems. Occasionally, though, doctors might give an incorrect diagnosis or fail to identify an illness altogether. Without proper treatment, your condition might worsen, leading to further injury, distress and avoidable suffering.
If a healthcare professional has failed to recognise or treat your symptoms, causing you unnecessary suffering, you might be able to make a misdiagnosis claim. You could receive compensation for your pain, psychological distress and any financial losses you incurred.
According to NHS figures, between 2016 and 2019, NHS Resolution settled 4,097 claims for medical negligence against NHS trusts for a total value of £583 million. During that period, NHS hospitals carried out 33 million diagnostic tests. The successful NHS misdiagnosis claims during that period suggest that this is, fortunately, an extremely rare event.
If your life was affected by a misdiagnosis, you might be entitled to compensation. To find out if you have a valid claim, enter your details into our online claim form or call 0800 678 1410 to speak to a legal adviser.
What is a medical misdiagnosis?
When feeling sick, we trust the advice and information provided to us by healthcare professionals. But unfortunately, doctors can make mistakes when diagnosing a condition and prescribing treatment. There are several types of diagnostic errors that could negatively impact your recovery and overall health:
Failure to diagnose a condition
If a medical practitioner fails to recognise a set of symptoms indicating a severe condition, this can cause unnecessary suffering for a patient and might even be fatal. Some situations that could give you valid grounds to make a medical misdiagnosis claim include:
- Not being referred to a specialist
- Misinterpreting lab test results
- Failure to investigate potential causes for your symptoms
- You did not receive screening for a particular condition
- Failure to appoint follow-up care checks
- You were not properly consulted about your symptoms
Failure to diagnose a condition means that you will not receive the necessary treatment and care to prevent symptoms from getting worse, which might aggravate your condition.
Delayed diagnosis of a condition
If you seek medical treatment for your symptoms, but your condition goes undiagnosed for an unreasonable amount of time, you might have a case for medical misdiagnosis. A late diagnosis can cause you avoidable and unnecessary pain and suffering.
Delayed treatment can potentially affect your recovery prospects and survival chances. Many cases of delayed diagnosis often occur in the A&E departments, where some conditions that do not seem critical may be overlooked due to the high volume of patients.
If your symptoms are incorrectly assessed and diagnosed as another condition, you will likely receive incorrect treatment and care. This could lead to the worsening of your illness and might have catastrophic results on your health.
The most common causes of a wrong diagnosis include:
- Failure to perform specific investigations and blood tests
- Misinterpretation of the patient’s physical condition
- Distractions at the workplace
- Failure to provide proper training to nurses and staff
- Fatigue and overwork of healthcare professionals
It is unrealistic to expect that doctors will get the correct diagnosis all the time. For misdiagnosis claims to be successful, you need evidence that the steps taken by a medical practitioner to diagnose and treat your condition were below the reasonable standard of care accepted in the field.
Can I make a medical misdiagnosis claim?
To be eligible for misdiagnosis compensation, you will need to prove that:
- The care you received was below the medical standard accepted in the medical field
- You suffered an injury as a result which caused you unnecessary pain and financial losses
- You received a misdiagnosis in the last three years
A brief conversation with a legal adviser can let you know if you might qualify for an NHS misdiagnosis claim or a claim against a private medical provider. Common situations for which you could claim compensation include:
- You communicated your symptoms to a doctor who concluded there was nothing wrong, but you were later diagnosed with a condition.
- Your illness worsened because you did not receive treatment in time.
- You received unnecessary treatment or surgery due to an incorrect diagnosis.
- You were falsely diagnosed with a terminal illness, which caused psychological damage.
- Your health and well-being deteriorated because a healthcare professional failed to diagnose your condition.
Not all diagnostic errors can lead to a claim. If a misdiagnosis did not have any repercussions on your physical or mental health, you are unlikely to receive compensation for medical negligence.
Unlike other types of personal injury claims, such as after a car accident or a slip, trip and fall, which are often straightforward and settled outside the court, medical negligence claims can be very complex. A medical misdiagnosis claim commonly involves arguing complex matters with the help of experts in the medical field who can help demonstrate the care you received was below the acceptable standard.
Which conditions are most commonly misdiagnosed?
If your life was negatively affected by a medical misdiagnosis, you might feel angry, frustrated and unsure about what to do next. An experienced solicitor can offer insight on what happened and help you claim misdiagnosis compensation for your pain and suffering.
Many conditions can be misdiagnosed, sometimes with severe consequences for the patient. Some medical problems that could lead to severe or fatal complications if not promptly diagnosed include:
Cauda equina syndrome
Cauda equina is a severe neurological condition that affects the lower end of the spinal cord. Several red flag symptoms like severe back pain, saddle anaesthesia and incontinence should prompt doctors to consider this condition. Misdiagnosis and delayed treatment of cauda equina syndrome can lead to debilitating permanent effects like paralysis and loss of bladder and bowel function.
For many reasons, cancer is one of the most misdiagnosed conditions. Some forms of the disease are so rare that doctors pay less attention to them, and others have symptoms very similar to common and less severe illnesses.
In many cases, the diagnosis of cancer comes down to pathologists who investigate the tissue samples. Many pathology departments lack the resources and training to properly identify cancerous cells. A misread sample can result in cancer diagnosis of a healthy individual or a clean bill of health for someone who suffers from the disease.
Both circumstances can have devastating consequences for a patient. Early diagnosis of some forms of cancer gives a survival rate of nearly 100 per cent, while diagnosis at later stages can drastically reduce your chances of recovery and survival. Some of the most misdiagnosed cancers are lymphoma, breast, lung and colon cancer and melanoma.
Bacterial meningitis is often a life-threatening condition that requires immediate treatment to prevent complications. It can be often overlooked, especially in babies and young children where it can be difficult to recognise some symptoms such as headache and a stiff neck.
Bacterial meningitis can also be misdiagnosed as viral meningitis, causing a delay in appropriate antibacterial treatment. Diagnosis involves a lumbar puncture to collect and investigate the cerebrospinal fluid. Misdiagnosis can result in a worse recovery prognosis and can sometimes be fatal.
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when an embryo implants outside the uterus and inside a fallopian tube. If not promptly removed, the fallopian tube could rupture, leading to severe bleeding. Medical practitioners should acknowledge the symptoms and perform the necessary tests to confirm an ectopic pregnancy.
Failure to identify and treat an ectopic pregnancy could require invasive surgery later on, which might leave a sizeable scar. Delayed intervention could cause infertility and might even be fatal in severe cases. You could claim misdiagnosis compensation for the pain, suffering and long-term complications you incurred.
Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix that causes pain in the lower right abdomen. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, abdominal bloating and low-grade fever that worsens as the illness progresses.
Without immediate treatment and surgery to remove the appendix, it could burst, leading to infection, abscess or sepsis, which could be life-threatening. If you reported symptoms such as abdominal pain, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea to a medical practitioner and they failed to act quickly, you might have a misdiagnosis claim for compensation.
The diagnosis of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes is usually a quick and straightforward process. Nonetheless, doctors still occasionally fail to diagnose the correct type of diabetes and prescribe adequate treatment, leading to unnecessary damage.
Poor care and management of diabetes can lead to severe side-effects such as heart attack and strokes, kidney failure, blindness or amputations. If you believe you developed diabetes-related complications due to negligence, you could be eligible to make a medical misdiagnosis claim.
Other health conditions that are a common cause for legal action due to misdiagnosis include:
- Heart attacks
- Lymph node inflammation
- Fetal distress
- Staph infection
- Irritable bowel syndrome
If you or a loved one suffered significant personal and financial damages due to a medical misdiagnosis, you should contact a personal injury solicitor as soon as possible. They will let you know if you might qualify for a misdiagnosis claim and answer any questions you might have.
Is a wrong or misdiagnosis always medical negligence?
A late diagnosis, misdiagnosis or incorrect diagnosis can have devastating and debilitating consequences. Many illnesses have a good prognosis if treated on time, while delayed treatment can severely reduce your chances of recovery.
However, a wrong or misdiagnosis is not evidence of negligence itself. Many competent and skilful medical practitioners can make diagnostic errors even when using reasonable care. To determine negligence, a medicolegal expert must evaluate how your doctor arrived at a particular diagnosis.
Healthcare professionals use differential diagnoses to arrive at the correct diagnosis. This involves a series of steps doctors must usually follow, such as:
- Gather relevant information about the patient’s history and create a list of symptoms.
- Consider the possible causes or candidate conditions for the presented symptoms.
- Determine the most probable cause of symptoms.
- Perform tests to confirm or reject the diagnosis. If the tests rule out the condition, consider other plausible causes of symptoms.
Physicians should test the strength of more probable diagnosis by asking detailed questions about medical history and symptoms, making future observations on the patient, ordering tests and advising specialist visits. As the investigation progresses, potential diagnoses will be ruled out, and only one should stand in the end.
To have a valid misdiagnosis claim, you must be able to prove that another doctor, in similar circumstances, would not have misdiagnosed your condition. This could mean showing one of two things:
- They did not include the correct diagnosis on the list of probable causes, while a reasonably competent doctor would have.
- The correct diagnosis was on the list of candidate conditions, but the doctor failed to investigate its viability or incorrectly ruled it out.
Sometimes, you could receive a misdiagnosis due to inaccurate results from lab tests, ultrasounds, radiology or other types of tests. This could be due to faulty equipment or human error in interpreting the results. You must be able to prove negligence in order to have a valid medical misdiagnosis claim.
To claim misdiagnosis compensation, you need to prove that your misdiagnosis caused you unnecessary and avoidable harm. For example, a delayed cancer diagnosis could require a more severe treatment. This can also increase the risk of recurrence and give fewer chances of remission.
If, on the contrary, you were diagnosed with a severe condition that you do not have, you will need to prove you sustained psychological damage in the form of anxiety, stress, other medical problems and unnecessary expenses for treatments.
What evidence do I need to make a misdiagnosis claim?
Your medical records are the most valuable piece of evidence to prove medical negligence. Your solicitor will also arrange a visit with an independent physician to determine how your misdiagnosis might be responsible for your current health condition and any long-term effects this may have.
You will need to show that a medical practitioner was negligent by proving:
- Breach of duty – you must prove that the care you received was below the reasonable standard of skill and knowledge expected in the field. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) offers extensive guidelines that solicitors and medicolegal experts can use as objective standards.
- Causation – you must show that you endured unnecessary pain and suffering or that your condition worsened as a direct consequence of your misdiagnosis.
- Damages – for your claim to be successful, you will need proof of the physical, psychological and financial damages you suffered due to a misdiagnosis.
Your solicitor will help you gather relevant proof to support your claim, such as:
- Photographs showing the physical consequences of your misdiagnosis
- Medical records stating the investigations your doctor carried out and the treatments you received
- Witness statements from family, friends and others who might have details about your situation
- A detailed testimony regarding your symptoms, treatments and how your condition worsened
- Reports from independent medical experts in the field
- Any correspondence you had with your doctor
- Financial evidence for all the unnecessary expenses you incurred
If you suspect your healthcare provider was negligent in their duty towards you, you should contact an experienced solicitor as soon as possible. They will let you know if you have a valid misdiagnosis claim and will help gather all the necessary evidence to secure the compensation you deserve.
How much compensation can I claim for a medical misdiagnosis?
In every personal injury claim, the compensation award aims to cover all the damages the victim suffered due to somebody else’s negligence. At the start of your claim, your solicitor will take into account all the ways in which your misdiagnosis affected your life to calculate the correct compensation award according to your unique situation.
Usually, you can claim compensation for:
General damages, such as:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional and psychological trauma
- Decreased quality of life
- Loss of consortium
- Life expectancy reduction
- Loss of companionship if the misdiagnosis resulted in the patient’s death
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Loss or impairment of physical and mental capacity
Special damages that include all the financial expenses you incurred, such as:
- Costs of medication and treatments
- Rehabilitation costs
- Costs of care, even if provided by a loved one
- Travel expenses
- Adaptation to your home or vehicle
- Mobility aids
- Lost wages, if you had to take time off work
- Any extra financial costs brought by the misdiagnosis
Every case is unique, and the final compensation amount will consider the extent to which the misdiagnosis affected your health, your overall recovery time and life expectancy.
The compensation award will cover all the extra treatment, medication, care and out-of-pocket expenses you had to pay due to the medical negligence. Furthermore, it also aims to compensate for how it affected your family, work and social life. The final goal of a misdiagnosis claim is to put you back in the position you would have been without receiving a delayed or incorrect medical diagnosis.
NHS Resolution settled 4,097 claims for medical negligence between 2016 and 2019, for a total amount of £583 million. The average compensation for a negligent diagnosis is around £50,000, but many cases of misdiagnosis of a severe medical condition were compensated with large sums exceeding £1 million.
According to the guidelines offered by the Judicial College, you could get:
- £225,960 to £264,650 for wrongful leg amputations caused by a misdiagnosis
- £225,960 to £281,520 for wrongful arm amputations
- £1,000 to £200,000 for unnecessary pain and suffering, depending on the severity
- £60,000 to £100,000 for severe injuries to internal organs
- £12,000 to £300,000 for wrongful death
- £50,000 to £300,000 for spinal cord injuries
- £21,730 – £56,180 for moderately severe PTDS causing significant disability
- £8,550 to £28,240 for scarring caused by unnecessary surgery
For a free consultation with a legal adviser, call 0800 678 1410. They can let you know if you may be eligible to make a claim and what compensation you might be entitled to.
What are the time limits for making a misdiagnosis claim?
According to the Limitation Act 1980, the time limit to start a misdiagnosis claim is usually three years after the incident date or the date of knowledge of your injury. The date of knowledge refers to the moment you received a correct diagnosis and realised your previous diagnosis was incorrect.
A judge may decide upon the date by which you should have reasonably suspected there is something wrong with you or your treatment and start investigating, depending on:
- The timeline and severity of your symptoms
- Your unique circumstances
- Whether you asked the opinion of another doctor after your initial diagnosis
Some misdiagnosis claims do not have a three-year limitation date:
- A litigation friend can represent a child who was misdiagnosed at any point before they turn 18. Afterwards, the victim has another three years to start their own claim.
- Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, there is no time limit to claim misdiagnosis compensation for an individual who lacks the mental capacity to conduct legal proceedings.
- If you or someone you love were incapacitated due to a misdiagnosis, the three-year countdown would start only after regaining capacity.
- You could also make a medical misdiagnosis claim if you received the wrong treatment abroad. The claim limitation date can vary according to each country’s legislation, so you should contact a solicitor as soon as possible to make sure you do not miss the deadline to make a claim.
- In wrongful death cases, a family member can make a misdiagnosis claim within three years from when their loved one passed away.
A judge may extend the limitation date in certain circumstances, for example, if they conclude you were unfairly prejudiced. Since the Coronavirus pandemic, the courts added an additional three months to the three-year limitation date.
Seeing as medical negligence claims can be very complex, you should contact a legal adviser as soon as possible to make sure you can build a strong case before the claim limitation date.
Can I make a misdiagnosis claim on behalf of somebody else?
If you or a loved one experienced unnecessary pain and suffering due to a negligent misdiagnosis, you might be able to make an NHS misdiagnosis claim. You can also claim compensation if you received a wrong diagnosis from a private healthcare provider.
Usually, the victim will conduct legal proceedings, but that’s not always the case. Children and protected parties are considered to lack the mental capacity to understand the claiming procedure and will need to be represented by a litigation friend.
To become a litigation friend, you will need to file a certificate of suitability, proving to the court that:
- You can fairly and competently conduct legal proceedings on behalf of the victim
- You don’t have a conflict of interest with them
The role of litigation friend is a long-term commitment that brings many responsibilities, such as:
- Attending court hearings
- Regularly consulting with the legal adviser
- Approve and sign legal documents
- Take decisions regarding compensation settlements
- Keep the victim informed on the legal proceedings
- Pay any legal fees incurred during claiming
If you decide to take on these responsibilities and others you might have to fulfil, according to the Court of Protection Rules 2007, you could represent:
A child under 18, whether you are one of the parents, guardian, another family member or friend.
A protected party who lacks the mental capacity to conduct legal proceedings. According to the Mental Capacity Act 2005, a victim may lack mental capacity due to:
- High levels of stress
- Severe sleep deprivation
- A neurodegenerative condition such as Alzheimer’s disease
- An intellectual disability such as Down syndrome
- Severe mental disorders like bipolar disorder or major depression
A victim whose first language is not English and might have difficulties communicating.
A member of your family who passed away due to a misdiagnosis.
For a free consultation with a legal adviser, call 0800 678 1410. They can let you know how to become a litigation friend and answer any questions you may have.
Can I claim against the NHS for a misdiagnosis?
Although the NHS has strict standards to provide care for all citizens, occasional mistakes in diagnosing a condition can still occur. If you believe you received an incorrect treatment or your illness worsened after a visit to an NHS trust, you might be entitled to make an NHS misdiagnosis claim.
Generally, you can start a claim within three years after becoming aware of your misdiagnosis. The compensation award you might receive depends on how your health and overall life was affected by the wrong or delayed diagnosis.
If you are unsure whether you can make a claim against the NHS, you have a good chance to be eligible for compensation if you can answer yes to the following questions:
- Was the care you received below the medical standard a competent doctor would provide?
- Did you suffer avoidable personal and financial losses as a result?
- Did you become aware of your misdiagnosis in the last three years?
Your solicitor will work with a medicolegal expert and review your medical records to prove breach of duty and causation in your misdiagnosis case. If they can determine you were treated negligently, your solicitor will send a letter of claim to your healthcare provider stating your allegations.
If they admit liability, you can start negotiating a compensation award. Otherwise, you may have to issue court proceedings and argue your claim before a judge.
If you are still under treatment at the hospital where you were misdiagnosed, you might worry that claiming compensation might affect your therapy. Although it is against the law to be refused treatment due to an ongoing claim, your solicitor can arrange for you to be transferred to an alternative hospital to help you feel more comfortable.
Will I be offered a no win no fee service?
If your life was affected by the consequences of a misdiagnosis, you might feel angry, frustrated and confused. Especially if you are still under treatment, you might feel reluctant about investing a lot of time, effort and money into making a misdiagnosis claim without having the certainty of compensation.
Before 2013, misdiagnosis claims could be funded by Legal Aid, but today it is only available for a limited number of circumstances, like birth injury claims. If you do not have legal expenses insurance, you can always contact a solicitor for a no win no fee agreement.
If your solicitor believes you have a valid claim with a fair chance of success, they will represent your case without asking for any upfront fees. Furthermore, they will take out an After the Event (ATE) insurance policy, which provides full coverage if your claim is unsuccessful. In short, if you lose your misdiagnosis claim, you don’t have to pay anything to anyone.
If your claim is successful, the defendant will have to pay most of the costs you incurred during claiming. You will only have to pay the cost of the ATE premium and a success fee to compensate for the risk your solicitor took by offering you a no win no fee agreement.
The success fee depends on the time and effort invested into each unique case, but it cannot exceed 25% of the compensation you are awarded. You will agree upon the fee before starting legal proceedings, so you don’t have to worry about any hidden charges.