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If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is medical negligence

The duck test is a form of inductive reasoning which implies that a person can identify an unknown subject by observing that subject’s characteristics.  The argument is sometimes used to counter the viewpoint that something is not what it appears to be. In dealing with medical negligence matters, clients will often ask why it was necessary for a doctor to undertake so many different tests and enquiries to establish the true nature of any condition.

We would always explain that providing a doctor undertakes any referrals or tests in a diligent or expeditious manner, then there will be no negligence.  However, litigation as a result of a delay in diagnosing cancer is difficult and requires careful examination of the timeline involved.  A delay in diagnosing cancer indicates that a person had cancer at an earlier time and that the doctor missed the opportunity to diagnose the condition.

A medical negligence claim has to prove both elements of negligence and causation, i.e. the breach of duty caused an injury. There are many differing types of negligent diagnoses in cancer claims, ranging from a ‘failure to refer’ to a ‘failure to diagnose’ to an ‘incorrect diagnoses’ of cancer.  It is a common enquiry for patients or a bereaved family to allege that a General Practitioner failed to refer for further investigation when presented with signs or symptoms that required a referral for a diagnosis.

We have all experienced examples of attending our own GP surgery with a particular symptom that the doctor diagnoses and we are despatched with the phrase “If it doesn’t improve, then please come back”.  Some people may persevere with the ailment and some will return to the GP surgery, whereupon they meet with a different doctor or nurse.  This can be where a delay occurs as the new doctor is confronted with new symptoms and may not relate those symptoms to those displayed in a previous appointment.

The University of Exeter Medical School has invented a computer app for GPs with the aim of saving hundreds of lives a year in assisting with an earlier detection and diagnosis in cancer cases.  The computer programme operates by analysing the symptoms as logged into a persons medical records by a GP, these symptoms may otherwise be dismissed as harmless and a cancer allowed to develop.

The programme flashes up a message on the doctor’s computer screen – asking whether there is a link between the patient’s pains and the previous complaint.  The programme then allows for a doctor to make the necessary immediate, urgent or non-urgent referral for further examination of the doctor’s suspicions.

Cancer survival rates in the UK are much lower to those in many other European countries, mostly due to the late diagnosis or referral by doctors for specialist treatment.  Some of the deadliest cancers present with misleading symptoms, which often appear harmless – such as tiredness, bloating or weight loss.

General Practitioners are vital to the process of ensuring that cancer is diagnosed at an earlier stage, which gives people the best chance possible of survival.

If you have suffered a significant physical or psychological injury due to medical negligence, contact a member of our team for a free initial consultation on 0800 085 3295. Alternatively, contact us with details of your potential claim by email at


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