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Posted on 27th February 2017

What can go Wrong and Making a Claim for Diabetic Negligence

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a life-long condition that affects a person's blood sugar level. There are two main types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2.

Type 2 tends to happen later in life and is the more common of the two.

What causes diabetes?

Your blood sugar level, or the amount of glucose in your body, is normally controlled by the hormone insulin. This is produced by the pancreas.

When a person has diabetes their pancreas either:

  • produces no insulin (Type 1)
  • doesn't produce enough insulin or the body's cells don't react to insulin (Type 2)

Without proper treatment sugar levels can get dangerously high. Since Type 1 and Type 2 are distinct conditions, they have be treated very differently, even though the symptoms and consequences of the two conditions are very similar.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • feeling very thirsty
  • urinating more often than usual
  • feeling very tired
  • weight loss or muscle loss
  • itching around genitals, or frequent episodes of thrush
  • cuts or wounds that heal slowly
  • blurred vision

Type 1 diabetes can develop quickly over weeks or even days.

Type 2 diabetes can linger for years without diagnosis because early symptoms tend to be general and difficult to link to diabetes.

How is it diagnosed?

If you have symptoms of diabetes your GP should carry out a series of tests to find out whether your blood sugar levels are high. They do this through a urine sample test and if irregularities are found, a subsequent blood test should be done.

Urine shouldn't have glucose in it, so if this is found, it could indicate you have diabetes.

How is diabetes treated?

Type 1: Daily insulin injections, some diet management

Type 2: Diet, exercise, tablets to control glucose levels, sometimes insulin injections

What can go wrong?

The main risk with diabetes is misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. High blood sugar levels can damage your nerves, blood vessels and organs. A diabetic person is at risk of the following:

  • Heart disease and stroke

    You are five times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke.

  • Nerve damage

    This can cause a tingling or burning pain through your fingers, toes and limbs. It can also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and constipation.

  • Retinopathy

    This is damage to your retina and causes blurry vision.

  • Kidney disease

    If the blood vessels in your kidney become blocked or leaky, the kidneys work less efficiently. In rare cases this can lead to kidney failure.

  • Foot problems

    When the nerves in your foot are damaged, small cuts and nicks can go unnoticed - this can lead to a foot ulcers developing. One in 10 diabetics get a foot ulcer.

  • Sexual dysfunction

    Diabetes can make men more susceptible to erectile problems, though this is often treatable with medication. Women may experience sexual dysfunction for example, a lower sex drive, dryness, pain and a reduced ability to orgasm.

  • Miscarriage and stillbirth

    Women with diabetes have an increased risk of miscarriage or stillbirth. Glucose levels have to be very carefully controlled before and during early pregnancy.

These are risks for patients who are being treated properly for their diabetes. Those who are not properly diagnosed or have a delayed diagnosis are at much greater risk or these complications developing.

Misdiagnosed with the wrong type of diabetes

The most common misdiagnosis of diabetes is when type 1 diabetes is diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Out of 100,000 people who have been misdiagnosed with diabetes in the NHS in 2011, 50,000 of these were patients who were told they had type 2 diabetes, when they actually had type 1.

This can have significant consequences because the treatment of type 2 diabetes is different from type 1. Someone suffering from type 1 diabetes needs daily injections of insulin (because their body isn't providing any of it), whereas type 2 diabetics do not need as much insulin, since their body is producing some.

If a patient is given a type 2 diabetic treatment plan when they actually have type 1, the doctor is assuming that some insulin is being produced by the body, when in fact there is none at all.

Delayed diagnosis leading to amputation

Foot ulcers can get so bad that the entire foot needs to be amputated, but plenty of diabetics avoid this complication through proper treatment. If your diagnosis of diabetes is delayed, you may be more likely to need an amputation if issues with your feet have gone untreated during this time.

Not all amputations are caused by ulcers and not all delayed diagnoses will count as negligent, but sometimes they might be.

Mismanagement of treatment

If your symptoms are not properly monitored and treatment is not taken to reduce complications in the future to keep your glucose levels stable, then a patient can experience severe, even life-threatening consequences.

There are specific guidelines for designing a treatment programme for diabetics, which your practitioner is obliged to follow. If they don't monitor and manage your condition properly, this can count as negligence.

Making a negligence claim

Not all cases of misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis or poorly managed treatment will count as negligence. Each claim is taken on a case by case basis and negligence has to be proven according to specific, legal rules.

However, if you have been misdiagnosed, your diagnosis came late, or you haven't been treated properly and this has caused you harm, then you could make a successful clinical negligence claim. The best way to establish whether you have a case is to get in touch. We'll take the details of your case, get legal advice and let you know whether your situation is likely to result in a successful claim.

Further Information