Up to one in six patient consultations in hospitals and primary care could be wrong.
Hundreds of thousands of people could be misdiagnosed by NHS doctors every year, an investigation has revealed.
Medics could be getting it wrong in as many as one in six of patient consultations in hospitals and primary care, according to Misdiagnosis, a BBC radio programme broadcast yesterday.
While most cases do not result in the patient suffering serious harm, a sizeable number are likely to experience significant health problems as a result.
But cases of misdiagnosis are not recorded anywhere in the NHS and this has led to growing demands for better reporting systems to help doctors prevent it.
The National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) runs a database that records medical errors, patient incidents, mistakes in medical notes and near-misses on a voluntary basis. Between April 2008 and March 2009 there were 39,500 reports of incidents involving clinical assessment.
Dr Kevin Cleary, the medical director of the NPSA, said reasons for misdiagnosis included lack of training, test results that were misinterpreted, poor communication and diseases that had similar symptoms.
Patient charity Action Against Medical Accidents (AAMA) has called for a change in the law to make reporting of misdiagnoses a mandatory requirement of doctors.
AAMA chief executive Peter Walsh said: 'We have 4,000 inquiries a year and of those in primary care a large proportion, perhaps about 50 per cent of cases, involve misdiagnosis of some sort.
'We see no reason why it shouldn't be a legal requirement on healthcare organisations, including general practices, to report incidents that go wrong in healthcare, including incidents of misdiagnosis.
'It's ridiculous that we get so few reports when we know there are significant numbers of this going on already.
‘This is just the tip of the iceberg.’
A review published recently in the American Journal of Medicine, about misdiagnosis in developed countries, suggested that up to 15 per cent of all cases could be misdiagnosed. Professor Graham Neale, of the Centre for Patient Safety and Service Quality at Imperial College London, has been researching misdiagnosis for the past four years and wants to see improvements to medical training.
He said: 'I think it's a very big problem, and a problem that we should address. But I think we're going to have to tackle it from both ends, try to get the colleges more involved in this and get senior staff to take this seriously, and then on the educational side bring it up from below.'
Earlier this year a Westminster parliament health committee report identified that:
'Delayed or missed diagnosis in general practice is a significant problem, generating many complaints and claims.'
Separate research suggested that one in 10 patients in hospital was harmed because of the care they received.
One in six - and that figure is only the ones that are known about - it doesn't include unrecorded ones. If you added to that the number of patients mis-prescribed (e.g. around 1.5 million addicted benzo patients) you might feel inclined to wonder how much harm the NHS system actually inflicts to set against the good it does. Apparently August (July in the US) is a good time to die because that is when newly trained doctors arrive in hospitals.