Action urged after hospital blunders lead to delays in cancer treatment

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Action urged after hospital blunders lead to delays in cancer treatment

22nd May 2012

A medical negligence expert has called for an improvement in cancer referral monitoring processes after it emerged that hundreds of patients with suspected cancer may have missed out on urgent treatment.

Jacqui Hayat, head of the London medical negligence department at Fentons Solicitors LLP, was speaking after revelations that a significant number of patients referred by their GPs to the country’s largest hospital trust within the last 12 months may not have been fast-tracked to see a specialist.

“It is hugely concerning that this issue has only just come to light,” said Jacqui, a partner at the firm, “The patients affected include those suffering with breast cancer and other life-threatening tumours - patients who are entitled to a hospital appointment within two weeks.

“The two-week cancer referral rule for those with suspected cancer is specifically in use to reduce delays in diagnosis and treatment,” she added. “Any delay in treatment can obviously have significant implications and it is a disgrace that patients who are potentially seriously ill are being made to endure weeks of waiting and anxiety before they are eventually seen.”

After concerns that up to 900 patient records were incomplete, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust has written to GPs in London requesting assistance in tracing patients and their carers to ascertain which patients had received the treatment they were urgently referred for and which patients were still waiting for their appointments.

“It is absolutely crucial that Imperial College Healthcare Trust now investigate how so many patient records were left incomplete,” said Jacqui. “More importantly, it is vital that any patients who were referred by their GP under the two-week cancer referral rule are now traced so that their clinical records can be reviewed and the most appropriate course of action can be agreed.”

GPs have been urged to co-operate with any requests from the trust for help until the problem has been investigated further. A spokesperson for Imperial College Healthcare said the trust is in the process of clinically validating all records that indicate a patient may have been waiting for more than two weeks for a referral for suspected cancer.

The trust insisted that the widespread data input errors uncovered on its systems were due to ‘data collection issues’ and that some records had been opened but never closed while others had been duplicated.

“The fact that these types of errors were even allowed to happen raises serious questions about the efficiency of hospital systems,” said Jacqui. “Clearly, these systems are failing patients and it is inappropriate that GPs are now being asked to contact patients on behalf of the trust responsible for making these mistakes.

“The health of suspected cancer patients must always be our key concern as any delay in diagnosis and treatment could obviously have potentially devastating implications,” she added. “Patients must be aware that they are being referred for treatment urgently and should expect to receive an appointment within 14 days. There need to be processes in place to ensure that in the event that fast-tracked appointments are not allocated or patients miss their bookings, the practice is notified and the issue is flagged as a matter of priority.”

How can Fentons help?

Fentons has a specialist department experienced in handling claims relating to medical negligence.

If you think that you have a case or require further information, contact Fentons on 0800 019 1297 or fill in the online claim questionnaire.

Read more: Evening Standard