Health Ombudsman Criticises Hospital for Failure to Diagnose Breast Cancer

The Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman has criticised St Albans Hospital in Hertfordshire for the failure to diagnose breast cancer in a forty-one year old patient.

The patient – identified in the Ombudsman´s report as “Mrs G” – was referred to the breast care unit at St Albans Hospital in May 2010 by her GP. However, according to the report, the hospital failed to conduct the appropriate tests and the woman´s breast cancer was overlooked.

When the woman returned to St Albans Hospital for a second round of tests in December 2011, tests revealed that the breast cancer had advanced to an inoperable stage and had spread into her brain, liver and bones. The woman had to give up her job because of her illness – adding considerable financial strains to the stress she was experiencing about how long she had left to share with her young son.

The Ombudsman´s investigation into the hospital´s failure to diagnose breast cancer 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 also claimed that the patient would have made a full recovery if the cancer had been diagnosed at an earlier stage.

The Ombudsman called for West Hertfordshire NHS Trust to make a “full and sincere apology” to their patient and to pay her £70,000 compensation for the failure to diagnose breast cancer. Author of the report – 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 commented “We clearly failed Ms G and I have offered her my personal and sincerest apologies.” Ms Jones added that the NHS Trust had put mechanisms in place to prevent the same mistakes being made again, and said that consultants dealing with breast cancer referrals had been given additional training.

Last year the West Hertfordshire Hospital Trust admitted that it had failed to follow NHS guidelines for monitoring patients referred to the breast unit at St Albans Hospital. Instead of arranging second appointments for patients who missed their initial consultation – as is required under the NHS guidelines – the NHS trust had discharged them in order to remove patients from their books.

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