The diagnostic skills of GPs are the backbone of the NHS, but they are not infallible and it is only right that compensation is paid when negligent mistakes are made. In one case, a man whose skin cancer was misdiagnosed as a fungal nail infection won almost £180,000 in compensation.
The carpenter had suffered a splinter injury to his thumb nail many years before he went to see his GP at the insistence of his wife, a staff nurse. The doctor prescribed a course of an oral anti-fungal medication. The appearance of his thumb continued to deteriorate and he went back to the surgery several months later.
On that occasion, a locum GP noticed ominous signs of malignancy and immediately referred him for specialist investigation. A rare form of skin cancer was diagnosed and, despite an optimistic early prognosis, the disease had spread through his body. The most recent prognosis was that he has only 10-30 months to live.
In ruling in the man's favour, the High Court accepted his and his wife's account of the first consultation. Experts agreed that it was an abnormal nail, suggestive of malignancy, and that its appearance was not consistent with a fungal infection. Despite his good clinical record, the GP had fallen below the required degree of skill and competence expected of a reasonable practitioner.
The delay in referring the man for specialist treatment meant that he had surgery almost 10 months later than he would otherwise have done. But for that delay, the Court found that he could probably have expected to live for another 20 years or more. The man was awarded a total of £178,845 in damages, including £70,000 for his pain, suffering and loss of amenity and £5,000 to pay for his funeral.