South west Hertfordshire MPs criticise hospital cancer referral errors as ‘unacceptable’

St Albans MP Anne Main

St Albans MP Anne Main

First published in News by

MPs in south west Hertfordshire have described the hospital admin errors that has led to more than 800 cancer referrals being reviewed as “unacceptable”.

Today West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust said more than 120 cases are still under review after  it discovered patients who missed first appointments were not being offered a second, in line with NHS guidelines.

Following the revelations five MPs covering the area: St Albans’ Anne Main, Watford’s Richard Harrington, south west Herts’ David Gauke, Hertsmere’s James Clappison and Hemel Hempstead’s Mike Penning, released a joint statement condemning the oversight.

The MP also said “serious” questions needed to asked as to why the error, which was discovered in November, was not picked up earlier.

The statement said: "There is absolutely no doubt that the trust’s failure to follow the correct administrative process for urgent referrals is unacceptable, and deeply wrong.

"That there have been such tragic consequences makes this so much worse and, first and foremost, our thoughts must be with the people personally affected by this and the families who have been contacted with this news in recent weeks.”

The problems at the trust related to patients who were referred for an appointment by GPs or dentists with symptoms that could signify cancer.

After discovering the error relating to second appointments, the trust reviewed 810 cases and found no problems in 686 of them.

Of the remaining 124, two patients have been found to have died since their referral. In one of these cases the trust said a delay seeing the patient could have contributed to the death. It is currently contacting the family of the second deceased patient.

A third patient was found to have had their cancer diagnosis delayed because of the error, but the trust said the condition was still caught at an early stage.

The trust is still reviewing the cases of 121 patients in relation to the error.

It has also commissioned an independent investigation into what caused the problems and two managers have been suspended while it is carried out.

The MPs acknowledged that the new trust’s new management regime, ushered in by chief executive Samantha Jones, who started last year, had been overhauling the system of monitoring referrals.

They added: “The serious question that needs to be asked is why this was not picked up earlier. Why did the previous management team, not seek to make the same improvements that the new management has undertaken or look at whether procedures were being properly adhered to.

"What is of greater concern, and should absolutely be investigated, is whether this problem is limited to West Herts and if other Trusts should also be reviewing their arrangements for patients who miss urgent referrals.

“We will be keeping in touch with the Trust over the coming weeks to ensure that investigations continue to the highest possible standard and that improvements continue to be made, but remain deeply concerned that the previous management allowed this to happen and feel strongly that there must be accountability for these mistakes once the inquiries are complete.”

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