When a GP referred a female patient to the local hospital for an urgent investigation, it should have led to her prompt diagnosis and treatment for ovarian cancer.
However, the referral letter was lost and, furthermore, the GP had failed to tell the patient that the referral was urgent. As a result, the operation she needed did not take place until several months after it should have done.
The judge concluded that the GP’s failure to advise the woman that the referral was of an urgent nature did constitute a breach of the duties owed by a doctor to a patient.
However, the judge was not able to establish how much less invasive the surgery would have been had the diagnosis and procedure taken place earlier. There was also no conclusive statistical evidence of the effect of delay on life expectancy in such circumstances.
Accordingly, the woman was awarded general damages because of the delay but was denied damages on the basis that the delay was likely to have reduced her life expectancy.