The increase in skin cancer claims in recent years has confirmed the importance of adequate GP training to ensure early diagnosis and referral. According to research by the Medical Defence Union (MDU), there has been a doubling in melanoma claims, with 95% of patients alleging a delay or incorrect diagnosis.
Figures show that between 1996 and 2000, the average number of claims notified by MDU members was around seven per year, while the comparable figure for the period 2008 to 2012 was around 15 cases per year. The majority of 145 claims notified over a fifteen year period involved GPs (85%).
Dr Michael Devlin, MDU head of professional standards and liaison, said: “We’ve seen a gradual increase in melanoma claims in recent years, which may partly be a result of the overall increase in incidence of this type of cancer. GPs are particularly vulnerable to facing a claim for a delay in diagnosing melanoma because they are usually responsible for making an initial diagnosis and referring patients. Melanoma is especially challenging because without adequate training and experience, diagnosis can be difficult. Therefore we encourage doctors to seek further training if required and to work in line with national and locally-agreed guidelines.
“New guidance on tests and symptoms, drawn up by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), will also help doctors with accurate and timely diagnosis on a larger scale. It is also important to remember that claims arise from melanomas on all parts of the body. Common sites of melanomas in the cases we looked at were the trunk, legs, head and back. However, a smaller percentage of melanomas were also detected on the foot. If things do go wrong, particularly if the outcome is poor or unexpected, we recommend an explanation, an apology and action to fix the problem, if possible. A full, honest and timely response may prevent the matter from escalating into a claim. It’s important to talk to your medical organisation as soon as you are aware of a potential problem.”