Legal complaints against GPs for missing melanoma double in decade

GPs should receive extra training to spot melanoma because legal cases against the profession for missing or incorrectly diagnosing the disease have doubled in a decade, medico-legal experts have warned.

Melanoma: GPs face rise in legal challenges (Photo: iStock)
Melanoma: GPs face rise in legal challenges (Photo: iStock)

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) called for GPs to receive more training to improve early diagnosis and referral of melanoma to help protect them against rising complaints.

It reported receiving an average seven melanoma-based claims per year between 1996 and 2000, but this leapt to 15 for the 2008 to 2012 period. The majority of these cases (85%) were against GPs.

For GPs who have missed a melanoma diagnosis, the MDU recommends a ‘full, honest and timely response’ – including an apology – as a measure to prevent the matter escalating further.

Melanoma training

GPs are particularly vulnerable to such complaints because they are often the first point of call, responsible for making an initial diagnosis and referring patients on.

Dr Michael Devlin, MDU head of professional standards and liaison, said: ‘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.

‘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.’

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