News that more than 800 patients were wrongly discharged by hospitals in Hertfordshire and automatically removed from waiting lists, suggests serious failings which may well have caused avoidable harm to patients.
Reports suggest 810 patients were discharged without ever being seen after failing to attend appointments between January 2010 and November 2013 because West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust was not following appropriate procedures.
120 cases are apparently being reviewed. The impact on these patients is not known. Some will have been treated elsewhere but it's likely that delays in treatment have worsened the prognosis for others.
Medical management of cancer is complex but the administration should not be. There is guidance from NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) designed to ensure referrals take place quickly to avoid the harm delays can cause. It's frustrating if the effort which goes into good medical management proves fruitless because patients are wrongly discharged as a result of inadequate procedures.
Another disturbing feature is quite how long these failures were allowed to continue. The discharges took place over nearly 4 years. It seems extraordinary that the system was allowed to remain in place for so long.
Our Medical Negligence Solicitors spend a lot of time working for people whose cancer has been allowed to worsen because of medical mistakes. Most of the mistakes are in failures by GPs to refer to specialists or misinterpreted radiology. In one recent case a GP missed opportunities for more than one year to refer a patient for investigations of bowel cancer. Sadly her condition, which could have been successfully treated at the outset, proved terminal because of medical delays. In another case there was a 2 year delay in diagnosis of breast cancer after the results of MRI scans were not communicated to the treating doctor.
These medical negligence cases can be catastrophic for patients and their families, particularly when by the time of diagnosis the condition is terminal. Our experience suggests that many of these mistakes were entirely avoidable. It's crucial that administrative errors of the sort which have taken place at West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust facilities are not allowed to take place.
Paul Sankey is a Medical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
Slater and Gordon have offices across England, Scotland & Wales and offer a free consultation for people injured by clinical or medical negligence. Call freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.