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Heart Surgery Patient Dies after Near-Year-Long Wait for Treatment

A patient with adult congenital heart disease (ACHD) died while being kept waiting almost 12 months for vital heart surgery.

The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales said the length of time the Neath Port Talbot man had been forced to wait for tests was “completely unacceptable.” He died in March 2013 shortly before his operation was due.

After the man’s sister complained to the ombudsman about the length of time her brother had waited for tests, the watchdog said he had died because of an unacceptable waiting time for tests.

The ombudsman found the man had waited nearly twice the recommended time for surgery and Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health board had failed to warn the family of vital symptoms to watch out for that would indicate his condition was deteriorating and he needed urgent medical attention.

The investigation found that there was a lack of urgency for treatment for patients with ACHD within the health board as a whole and there had been previous near misses with patients waiting for the same type of heart surgery before.

Ombudsman Nick Bennett said: "On the balance of probabilities, had Mr X received treatment earlier, it would have saved his life. The Welsh Government Referral to Treatment (RTT) target is 26 weeks.

"It is completely unacceptable that he waited nearly twice this time.”

ABMU health board said several important changes had been implemented over the three years since the man’s death and they had acted on the ombudsman’s recommendations to address waiting times for ACHD patients.

"We fully accept the recommendations made by the ombudsman, and can give assurances that several important changes have been put in place over the last three years.

"The management and processes supporting these patients have now been considerably tightened, and access to pre-surgical tests within Wales much improved."

Referral to treatment (RTT) is the period of time from referral by a GP or other medical practitioner to hospital for treatment in the NHS in Wales. It includes time spent waiting for hospital appointments, tests, scans and other procedures that may be needed before treatment.

According to recent Welsh government statistics, surgery waiting times have improved. By the end of January, a total of 432,304 patients were waiting for the start of their treatment. Of these, 84 per cent had been waiting less than 26 weeks and almost 94 per cent had been waiting less than 36 weeks from the date their referral letter was received in hospital.

Treatment for congenital heart disease depends on the specific defect a patient has. Severe heart defects usually require surgery and long-term monitoring of the heart. Patients with congenital heart disease are at increased risk of developing a range of further problems such as, respiratory tract infections, endocarditis, pulmonary hypertension, heart rhythm problems and sudden cardiac death.

Karen Cathcart is a clinical negligence solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.

Karen specialises in compensation claims arising from deaths and injury following negligent medical treatment.

If you or a member of your family suffered from negligent treatment in hospital, call our medical negligence solicitors for a free consultation on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.

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