St Albans hospital breast clinic fails woman with terminal cancer

St Albans City Hospital

St Albans City Hospital - Credit: Archant

A mother of one suffering with terminal breast cancer was let down by St Albans Hospital which failed to detect and treat the disease, the Health Service Ombudsman has found.

The 41-year-old woman, who has been named as Ms G, was referred to the West Herts Hospital Trust’s breast clinic in St Albans in May 2010 to attend a follow up appointment.

The report issued by the Ombudsman found that the breast specialist failed to carry out the tests needed to rule out cancer.

Upon returning in December 2011, Ms G’s biopsies revealed she had an advanced inoperable breast cancer and secondary cancers of the liver, brain and bone.

The Ombudsman report found that had Ms G’s cancer been found in 2010, it was unlikely it would have been terminal and her prognosis much better.

The debilitating illness has caused Ms G to lose her job, adding financial anxiety to the already mounting stress about how long she has left with her son.

The Ombudsman, Julie Mellor, said: “A mother has had her life cut short because of the serious failings by West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust to carry out the necessary tests to rule out breast cancer.

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“They missed vital opportunities to diagnose the cancer and begin treatment.

“This is a very sad example of what can go wrong when doctors and trusts don’t carry out the necessary and proper diagnoses and tests, and the terrible impact it can have on someone’s life.”

It was also found that the specialist failed to make Ms G aware of the importance of attending her follow-up appointment.

The trust failed to make her aware of the potentially serious cause of her condition and inappropriately discharged Mrs G without making her, or her GP, aware of the seriousness of her situation.

Julie Mellor added: “Doctors and hospitals must understand and learn from complaints. There needs to be a cultural shift in the NHS where staff are encouraged to be open when things go wrong and to admit to mistakes.

“Only when listening and learning are truly embedded into an organisation’s culture will we see the improvements we need for a better and safer NHS for all.”

The Ombudsman has recommended that £70,000 be paid to Ms G for her suffering and distress, alongside a full and sincere apology.

Last November the West Herts Hospitals Trust admitted that the administration process it had used for monitoring patients referred with suspected cancer had not been followed in line with NHS guidelines since November 2010.

The trust revealed that some patients who had not turned up for their initial cancer appointment had been discharged instead of being offered second appointments as they are required to do by NHS rules.

Samantha Jones, Chief Executive said: “We clearly failed Ms G and I have offered her my personal and sincerest apologies, and I have offered to meet with her.

“We accept in full all of The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s recommendations. This includes providing enhanced training for doctors to recognise, diagnose and test for cancer and we have also paid the compensation recommended by The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

“We have undertaken a major review of all of our cancer services which includes: the implementation of a new information system to track each patient’s care, weekly meetings to pro-actively review the overall management of all referrals and appointments and retraining and better supervision of staff.

“In addition, we have changed the way we inform patients about the importance of attending follow-up appointments and how we ensure patients, as well as their GPs, are aware of the seriousness of their condition.”