Northern Ireland

Trust 'let us down' over late diagnosis cancer: family

The family of an 80-year-old man who received a late cancer diagnosis due to unprocessed x-rays, has accused the Western Health Trust of letting them down.

The BBC revealed last week that it took 10 months to clear a backlog of around 18,500 x-rays at Altnagelvin hospital in 2010.

Four cancer patients received a late diagnosis and one man later died.

The family of one of the surviving patients has now contacted the BBC.

The elderly man's son, who did not wish to be identified, said the family has been left devastated.

In August 2009, after complaining of chest pains, their father was taken to Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry where he was x-rayed and discharged within two days.

Eleven months later, in July 2010, the hospital contacted the family and said their father should return to the hospital as soon as possible.

Tests were carried out which showed the man was suffering from lung cancer.

At the same time a leading clinician told the family that the scan taken 11 months earlier had detected cancer but that no-one had picked up on it.

Speaking to BBC NI health correspondent Marie-Louise Connolly, the elderly man's son said: "To be told your father has cancer is bad enough, in fact it is devastating, but then to be told a scan taken 11 months earlier had shown that there were signs of cancer on his lung and no-one had picked up on it - is just wrong.

"What are you meant to think?"

In 11 months the cancer had spread to the man's spine. During that time he'd been taking paracetamol for pain relief thinking that it was arthritis.

Image caption Thousands of x-rays went unprocessed

"My father had been crying with pain," he said. "When we look back and think that he was given paracetamol for what he believed was arthritis when he should have been given morphine, we feel so bad, he just didn't deserve any of this. "

Due to the man's poor health, a consultant advised that surgery on his spine was not an option. He was also told that he was too ill to receive chemotherapy.

The man is now terminally ill and is being cared for in his own home. He is visited four times a day by carers and his son is also responsible for looking after him.

The family said they had never received a formal apology from the Western Health Trust.

"That's why we have decided to speak out, they can't get away with that."

After the x-ray blunder became public last week the Western Health Trust's Medical director, Anne Kilgallen, apologised to all those involved.

The family said they expected a personal apology.

The family added that the situation was made worse after it emerged that the hospital was aware of their father's condition at least four months before the family was called back in July 2010.

In a letter, seen by the BBC, a doctor wrote that the x-ray taken 11 months earlier showed bronchogenic carcinoma, a form of cancer.

The elderly man's son was also concerned at the suggestion by the health trust that when it discovered that 3,400 chest x-rays had not been reported on, measures were put in place to ensure such a breakdown in procedure would not happen again.

The man's son also told the BBC that he felt the trust should make public the findings and conclusions of the independent investigation into the matter to restore public confidence.

A performance review into the Western Health Trust was called by Northern Ireland's Health and Social Care Board last year following a litany of failings.

High profile cases include, the McElhill Family tragedy, the death of toddler Millie Martin, the Donagh child sex abuse scandal and the failure to deliver home care packages to over 200 elderly patients.

The review also highlighted failings in meeting breast cancer referral deadlines.

Image caption The man was originally discharged after two days in Altnagelvin Hospital

In a statement the Western Health Trust said they "deeply regretted the additional distress caused to this patient and his family following recent reporting of the backlog of unreported x-rays at Altnagelvin Hospital."

"Comments made in an attempt to reassure the wider public about the backlog being addressed have clearly caused further pain to those most directly affected and the trust apologises for this

"As soon as clinical staff knew the patient's diagnosis was delayed, they met him and his family. They were entirely honest about the delay and expressed regret to the patient and his family.

"In August, the medical director offered to meet with the family and this was conveyed to them by the treating doctor. Although not yet taken up, we hope that the family may meet with us in the future.

"The details of this case were investigated internally and reported to the Health and Social Care Board and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety under our serious adverse incident system.

"This patient is one of the four patients who had a delayed diagnosis. All patients and their families were advised at the time and the trust unreservedly apologises for the delay."