• Case ref:
  • Date:
    January 2012
  • Body:
    A Medical Practice, Forth Valley NHS Board
  • Sector(s):
  • Subject:
    Clinical treatment / Diagnosis
  • Outcome:
    Some upheld, recommendations

Ms C complained on behalf of her late mother (Mrs A) about the care and treatment that she received from her GP practice. Mrs A attended the surgery for a period of two years with repeated complaints of breathlessness, pain in the back and rib cage, and a cough. She made the practice aware of a family history of lung disease and lung cancer. She was treated for numerous chest infections but received little or no relief from her symptons. Mrs A's condition deteriorated and she was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with terminal cancer of the lung, liver and upper chest. Mrs A died shortly after. Ms C complained that the practice failed to properly investigate Mrs A's symptoms within a reasonable time and that they failed to suspect her condition and refer her to hospital within a reasonable time.

We found that the practice carried out reasonable investigations, but that they should have had a high index of suspicion of lung cancer given Mrs A's strong family history and that she was previously a heavy smoker. Our medical adviser said that the practice should have considered referring Mrs A to a respiratory specialist when her respiratory symptoms had persisted for more than six weeks and were unexplained. However, we also found that even if the diagnosis had been made sooner, this was unlikely to have affected the outcome because Mrs A probably had a non-curable disease at presentation. Having said that, an earlier diagnosis might have improved her quality of life because it would have allowed treatments to be explored that might have alleviated some of her symptoms.

We recommended that the practice:
• undertake a significant event audit and review their practice on management of respiratory symptoms to ensure that they refer for specialist advice within a reasonable time; and
• apologise for the failures identified.