Delayed Diagnosis – UK vs. Other Countries

Nov 12, 2020 | Cancer Diagnosis

What is delayed diagnosis?

Delayed diagnosis occurs when there is a delay in diagnosis of a medical condition, injury or illness. As a result of this, a patient’s health, lifestyle and condition can worsen over time before receiving an accurate diagnosis, or in the worst case, may result in fatality. An example of this would be a woman giving birth in the hospital and needed an emergency C-section, however, was not given the proper diagnosis in time, which could then severely damage the woman’s body or even result in death. 

Where does delayed diagnosis usually occur?

The majority of delayed diagnosis cases occur in the A&E department, this is due to the fact that when the A&E department become busy, doctors may feel overwhelmed and struggle to pay full attention to the patient and therefore the patient and their symptoms can sometimes be overlooked. As A&E contains the most critical cases that need urgent medical care, this makes it the worst place for a misdiagnosis to happen.

The UK in terms of delayed diagnosis

Cancer survival has persistently been shown to be worse for Eastern Europe and UK/Ireland than other European regions, this is due to the fact that the stage of diagnosis is late. In 2019, £370 million was paid from claim settlements for delayed, wrong or failed diagnosis in the UK. With the same amount, the NHS could train over 5,000 nurses, however, are instead compensating misdiagnosis errors. These cases range from non-severe injuries such as missed broken bones, all the way to a false cancer diagnosis. According to HudgellSoliciters, Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals were revealed to have the highest number of claims relating to a delay or wrong diagnosis, totalling £4.6 million paid. The main reason why this is an issue is due to struggling to recruit enough medical staff, leading to doctors being overwhelmed and having to work on multiple patients. The higher the settlement paid, the longer the diagnosis was missed, such as amputations, brain injuries, spinal injuries, or even death. The most common missed diagnostic errors that lead to death were cancer, strokes and heart attacks.

Delayed diagnosis in other countries

In the U.S, approximately 40,00 million American’s seeking medical care receive a misdiagnosis every year. This makes delayed or a false diagnosis the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Gastric cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the world, with almost 782,000 deaths in 2018, most of them being in Asia. Patients in Asia were diagnosed at a younger age compared to Europe and the U.S. Asian doctors are also more likely to perform radical surgery rather than preoperative chemotherapy. This is an issue for the UK, as 53% of cancers are diagnosed at stage 1 and 2, meaning the remaining percentage is diagnosed at a later or even non-curable stage.


By Chelsea Andersson