Delay in medical treatment
Produced in partnership with David Green of 12 King's Bench Walk

The following PI & Clinical Negligence practice note produced in partnership with David Green of 12 King's Bench Walk provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Delay in medical treatment
  • Introduction
  • Types of claim
  • The duty
  • Causation
  • Loss of a chance

Delay in medical treatment


The standard of duty for doctors and other medical practitioners is well-known, and establishing whether a breach has or has not taken place is typically straightforward.

Delayed treatment and diagnosis cases more frequently become contentious because of causation issues. Almost all clinical negligence claimants will (obviously) come to their clinician with major risks to their health already in place. Establishing whether, and precisely what, additional loss and damage has been caused because of medical negligence is the issue at the heart of this area of practice.

Types of claim

Delayed treatment and diagnosis cases are common in all parts of the NHS.

The most significant claims arise in cases of acute and emergency care—there are so many stages in the journey of a sick patient through a complex major hospital, and the opportunities for delay present themselves at each stage. Patients can be triaged wrongly at A&E; they can be delayed in being referring for investigations, or in those investigations being properly interpreted; or in getting the patient before an appropriate specialist for their eventual treatment.

In Gouldsmith, for example, the issue on breach of duty was whether the vascular problems in the claimant’s fingers and hands ought to have led the hospital trust to have referred her elsewhere, to a centre of excellence—breach of duty was found at first instance, and not appealed.

But delays can

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