The NHS is one of the most important institutions in the Western world, demonstrating on a global level the possibilities inherent to a free national healthcare system. However, decades of being underserved by funding and by administration have caused the NHS to fall on hard times, with impacts for patients.

As NHS services are stretched farther and wider, instances of failures in medical care risk increasing. One of the more common failures in medical care relates to primary care, in the form of medical misdiagnosis. But what is it, and what are the most commonly misdiagnosed illnesses?

What is Misdiagnosis?

Medical misdiagnosis is a form of medical negligence, wherein a doctor or primary care facility fails to properly act in their duty of care to you as a patient. Negligence takes many forms, including surgical errors and the misprescription of drugs or drug doses, but medical misdiagnosis is the form that can happen earliest in a patient’s medical journey.

The Different forms of Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosis itself comes in a number of different forms – each of which can pose both short- and long-term risks to patient health, and even render them eligible to seek civil recourse via a legal claim against a doctor or facility. One form of misdiagnosis is ‘incorrect diagnosis’, wherein a doctor misinterprets the symptoms of an illness and diagnoses a different illness altogether. This can lead to the misprescription of drugs, potentially introducing damaging side-effects beyond the existing effects of the real illness.

Another form is ‘outright failure to diagnose’, wherein a doctor does not recognise any illness or condition from the symptoms you present, and hence fails to diagnose anything at all. This results in no ongoing medical care, and can ensure a condition progresses unchecked for much longer than otherwise. Finally, there is ‘delayed diagnosis’, which often happens in concert with failure to diagnose. Here, an illness is discovered slowly, allowing it to worsen – potentially beyond treatability, and with potentially life-altering or even life-shortening consequences.

Commonly Misdiagnosed Illnesses


Cancer is an extremely commonly-misdiagnosed illness, partially on account of the wide variety of forms and symptoms that cancer can exhibit. According to a 2018 report, as many as four in ten cancer patients are initially misdiagnosed before being properly treated. Cancer is also one of the more dangerous conditions to misdiagnose, given the speed at which certain cancers can progress from easily treatable to life-altering.

Heart Attack

Heart attacks are often misdiagnosed in non-emergency situations. This is because not all heart attacks are severe, and not all exhibit the same expected symptoms as a major iteration of one. Often, heart attacks are mistaken for heartburn or angina, resulting in delays to appropriate care.


Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating condition to inherit, and one that can only really be managed as it progresses. However, failure to identify it early can lead to mistreatment, which can in turn worsen symptoms for many.