Although the actual numbers are underreported, it’s now believed that up to one in six patients are being misdiagnosed under Britain’s government-run National Health Service.

While in most cases the misdiagnosis did not result in the patient suffering serious harm, a sizeable number of the millions of NHS patients were likely to suffer significant health problems as a result, according to figures. It was said that the number of misdiagnoses was “just the tip of the iceberg”, with many people still reluctant to report mistakes by their doctors.

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Earlier this year, the Healthcare Commission found that missed or wrong diagnoses were a major cause of complaints to the NHS. Of more than 9,000 complaints analysed, almost one in 10 related to a delay in diagnosis or the wrong diagnosis being made. Separate research also suggested that one in 10 patients in hospital was harmed because of the care they received.

The medical director of Britain’s National Patient Safety Agency says these “missed or inaccurate” diagnoses account for two-thirds of complaints against general practitioners and are most commonly a result of a lack of training, misinterpreted test results and poor communication in addition to the diagnostic mistakes that can occur when two diseases have similar symptoms.