Patients die after cancer referral errors

Posted by Jacqui O'Rourke on


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West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust has started a review of the referral process for patients referred to Watford General Hospital with suspected cancer.

Two patients died after delays in being seen. The Trust said that in one case the delay could have contributed to the death.   It discovered that patients who missed first appointments between January 2010 and November 2013 were not offered a second, in line with NHS guidelines.

Of 810 patients reviewed, 686 have been told there are no clinical concerns, while 121 are still being reviewed.

Five MPs covering the area - Richard Harrington, David Gauke, James Clappison, Mike Penning and Anne Main - released a joint statement condemning the oversight. The MPs also said serious questions needed to be asked as to why the error, which was discovered in November, was not picked up earlier. The statement said: "There is absolutely no doubt that the trusts failure to follow the correct administrative process for urgent referrals is unacceptable, and deeply wrong.

The Trust has commissioned an independent investigation into what caused the problems and two managers have been suspended while it is carried out. Samantha Jones, chief executive of the Trust said, "These concerns date back a number of years and were identified as part of the new management team's commitment to improve the way we administer and mange patient care.  I would like to apologise to each and every patient who has been affected and particularly to the relatives of those who have since died."

As a nurse within the clinical negligence team at Blake Lapthorn I have spoken with numerous individuals who are concerned that there has been a delay in diagnosing and treating their, or a family member's cancer, sometimes with devastating consequences.  Administrative errors and breaches of NHS guidelines, developed to try to safeguard patients, are unacceptable. At best these will cause patients unnecessary anxiety and at worst could have far more serious health implications, potentially putting lives at risk.

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About the Author

Photograph of Jacqui O'Rourke

Jacqui is a Nurse Advisor and Medical Researcher in our Clinical Negligence team with over 18 years of experience as a registered nurse.

Jacqui O'Rourke
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023 8085 7135

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