Case study: delayed diagnosis of haemochromatosis leading to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer

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Our medical negligence solicitors acted on a fatal case involving the delayed diagnosis of haemochromatosis, which led to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.

Visits to GP with abdominal pain

Abnormal platelet count reported as ‘normal’

In the mid-1990s, Mr G began to experience abdominal pain in the upper right side of his abdomen. He was a keen cyclist and the pain stopped him participating in bicycle races. He saw his GP who diagnosed gastritis.

Later the same year, Mr G’s GP carried out a blood test for other symptoms and it transpired that he had an abnormal platelet count. Unfortunately, this was reported as normal and no action was taken, nor was Mr G informed.

Mr G continued to complain to his GP about the pain and, following a normal scan of his gallbladder, he was informed that he was suffering with a strained muscle.

By the late 1990s, Mr G noticed that the joints in some of his fingers were swollen. He consulted with his GP who organised blood tests. Once again, it transpired that Mr G had an abnormal platelet count. No action was taken, nor was he informed. He was diagnosed with arthritis.

In 2001, Mr G had a blood test because he thought he might have coeliac disease. Again, an abnormal platelet count was ignored.

In 2005 Mr G attended his GP again, with a multitude of health concerns. A blood test revealed an abnormal platelet count and also abnormal liver function tests. Mr G’s blood tests were repeated on several occasions in 2006 and, despite being abnormal, they were considered “normal for him”.

Hospital referral and haemachromatosis diagnosis

Nine years later, in 2014, Mr G consulted his GP because he had lower abdominal pain which was becoming worse over time. He was referred to hospital with suspected appendicitis. Following investigations in hospital, he was diagnosed with haemachromatosis, liver cirrhosis and cancer of the liver. Very sadly, Mr G and his family were informed that his cancer was not responsive to curative therapy and he passed away in September 2015.

The claim

Failure to investigate test results further

A claim was pursued initially by Mr G and, on his death, by his widow. It was alleged that despite numerous abnormal liver function tests and blood results, there was a failure to carry out further investigations to look for a cause.

The Defendant admitted that Mr G should have been referred to a gastroenterologist/hepatologist and that, had he been referred, an ultrasound of his liver and iron studies would have been requested. Genetic testing for haemachromatosis would subsequently have been arranged and a diagnosis of hereditary haemachromatosis made.

Treatment could have ‘prevented further damage to his liver’

Furthermore, the Defendant admitted that Mr G would have been treated with venesection (to remove excess red blood cells from his body), which would have reduced his iron levels over a period of six to nine months. Thereafter, he would have undergone venesection every three months to counteract his ongoing excessive absorption of iron which would have prevented further damage to his liver.

The Defendant admitted that if this treatment had been initiated (as it should have done) in 2006/2007, Mr G would not have developed liver cirrhosis and liver cancer, and he would not have died.

The claim settled out of court in March 2019 for £975,000.

Further information

If you or a loved one has suffered as a result of delayed or misdiagnosis, our medical negligence lawyers are here to help.

We work with clients all over England and Wales from our six offices in Bristol and South Gloucestershire. Call us on 0117 325 2929 or fill out our online enquiry form.

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