Two women who were given the all clear following breast cancer screening checks between 2003 and 2008 have since died of the disease.
A new report reveals how a senior radiologist at Furness General Hospital in Cumbria was found to have been responsible for 10 out of 12 “substandard” assessments before 2011.
According to the report by Public Health England, the radiologist is still employed by the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust (UHMBT), although no longer in a clinical role.
The report examined how concerns from a department whistleblower, over the safety of the breast cancer screening service, were investigated last year. It revealed how the women were told they were at “low risk” following breast cancer screening checks. But, when their results were reviewed by an assessor, the women were screened again and found to have breast cancer.
Hospital executives claim there is no proven link between the women’s deaths and their late diagnosis.
According to the report, the working environment was deemed “extremely poor” and staff relationships were “strained.” In addition, outdated equipment hindered staff from distinguishing between cystic and solid lesions.
The report concludes “inaccuracies” of initial reassurances that the performance of the breast cancer screening at UMBHT was comparable with other trusts in the North West.
An official request has been submitted to the Health Secretary for an independent inquiry into the way in which whistleblowers, who first raised the alarm about 64 potentially missed cancers within the trust, were treated.
The Department of Health has refused to comment ahead of a planned Care Quality Commission inspection of services within the trust, in July.
Since 2011, all screening films at UHMBT have been read by two consultants to give added security to women undergoing checks for breast cancer.
Anyone being tested for breast cancer needs the very best and timely treatment available. Late diagnosis or errors in falsely diagnosing breast cancer can be extremely serious.
Wrong or late diagnosis of breast cancer may lead to more breast tissue being removed then necessary, cosmetic deformity to the breast, needless anxiety, and lymph nodes being unnecessarily removed from the armpit.
Although it is unclear whether the delays in diagnosing these women’s breast cancers were a contributory factor in their deaths, the evidence that whistleblowers were not taken as seriously as they should have been from the outset, and that patient care was substandard for several women treated at UMBHT, is both alarming and distressing.
Stephen Jones is a Senior Clinical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers help people who have suffered from delayed or wrong diagnosis of cancer due to Medical Negligence.
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