Fatal Delay in Detecting Breast Cancer Criticised by Health Ombudsman

The Health Ombudsman has criticised St Albans Hospital in Hertfordshire for a fatal delay in detecting breast cancer in a forty-one year old patient.

The patient – identified only as “Mrs G” – went to the breast care unit at St Albans Hospital in May 2010 after being referred there by her GP. The consultant who attended her failed to do the appropriate tests and overlooked her cancer.

When she returned to the hospital in December 2011, biopsies revealed that the breast cancer had advanced to such a stage that it was inoperable, and secondary cancers had developed in her brain and liver. The single mother of one was forced to give up her job because of her illness – adding considerable financial pressure to the stress she was experiencing about how long she had left to live.

An investigation into the fatal delay in detecting breast cancer was conducted by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who concluded that “Mrs G” was let down by the hospital and that her life had been cut short by the hospital´s “serious failings”. The Ombudsman reported that the patient could have made a full recovery if the cancer had been detected at the time of the initial referral.

Last year the West Hertfordshire Hospital Trust – the NHS Trust responsible for St Albans Hospital – admitted that it had failed to follow NHS guidelines for monitoring patients referred to them since November 2010 and had discharged patients who had failed to attend their initial cancer consultation instead of organising second appointments as it was required to do under NHS rules.

The Ombudsman´s report called for the NHS trust to make a “full and sincere apology” and to put mechanisms in place to ensure that the same mistake cannot happen again. The West Hertfordshire NHS Trust has already paid “Mrs G” £70,000 compensation for the fatal delay in detecting breast cancer and acknowledged that it had clearly failed.

Speaking after the release of the report, Ombudsman Julie Mellor said “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.” In response, the NHS Trust´s Chief Executive Samantha Jones said “We clearly failed Ms G and I have offered her my personal and sincerest apologies.”