Over 800 suspected cancer patients wrongly discharged in NHS blunder

9 July 2014

Over 800 suspected cancer patients wrongly discharged in NHS blunder

Despite warnings that over 800 suspected cancer patients from a health trust had been discharged incorrectly, the trust in question failed to stop the errors as they were being made-even though a GP had specifically warned management about the blunders and that the urgent cancer appointments required chasing up.

An investigation into the mismanagement at West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust revealed that 810 patients were not chased up after they had missed urgent cancer appointments. After at least one patient involved in the scandal passed away, an investigation was launched earlier this year which discovered that more than 100 other patients may have had life-threatening delays which were not chased up as a matter of urgency. The trust runs Watford, St Albans and Hemel Hempstead Hospitals in Hertfordshire.

An exclusive helpline has been set up at Mistreatment.com to provide free advice, guidance and support to patients and their loved ones who may have been impacted by the incorrect discharges and failed appointment bookings.

The final report reveals that a GP warned the trust that the discharges could be a serious problem in November 2012-a full year before the Trust launched its own investigation.

The incorrectly discharged patients did not attend urgent cancer check-ups, possibly because appointment letters were not sent out to them and because the patients were not chased up-protocol states that the patients should have been contacted straight away and offered another appointment within 14 days.

“A lack of continuity in leadership”

Instead it is thought they were either discharged or given non-urgent appointments.

Despite the GP in question raising fears about the lack of contact between the Trust and the patients affected, the report states that they were not followed up due to a lack of ‘appropriate systems’ to deal with complaints and there was a ‘lack of continuity in leadership’.

A wider review was put into place to get to the bottom of exactly how the blunders occurred and when.

The report said: 'In November 2012, [the Trust] received a GP’s formal complaint that patients referred with suspected cancer on a two-week wait pathway may have been discharged after one Did Not Attend.

'In response to the investigation clinicians were reminded of the policy. The formal complaint response in July 2013 acknowledged the issues and committed to actions to resolve them.

“Progress was not followed up”

'As the appropriate systems were not in place to deal with complaints management at that time and due to a lack of continuity in leadership and ownership to address the issues, progress was not followed up.'

In cancer diagnosis cases, prompt appointment bookings, check-ups and follow ups are vital in managing cancer symptoms and the cancer itself. Time is of the essence and anybody impacted by the finding of the report is able to call a free, specialist helpline set up here to provide advice and guidance about patient rights in this situation.

The report further added that it was only at a later, separate, training session did it become known that patients were not being chased up and offered a second appointment. It stated:

'This was the trigger to instigate the internal incident investigation - Operation Bloom - in November 2013. The GP complaint was reviewed again as part of this investigation.'

The current chief executive of the Trust, Samantha Jones, said yesterday that the health trust now has a 'comprehensive cancer improvement plan' in place.

'I apologise unreservedly to the patients and families affected and wish to assure them that we have already put failsafe mechanisms in place to stop these issues arising again,' she said.

'We have published the report to share the findings with our patients and local community.

'We will continue to work in partnership with local and national health partners to ensure all aspects of the cancer referral pathway can be improved to enhance the patient care experience.'

Your Rights

Mistreatment.com has a number of specialist cancer teams who can provide free advice about patient rights for anybody impacted by the failed bookings that occurred at West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust or any other Trust or hospital. You can be given free advice about how to make an official complaint, commence legal proceedings or to simply find out alternative options about how to raise your concern with the NHS at large.