A number of patients whose cancer diagnosis was delayed or missed at University Hospital Kerry (UHK) have begun legal action.
The move comes as an audit revealed that four out of 11 patients whose diagnoses were delayed have died. The delay in one case was 76 weeks. The patient has since died of lung cancer.
In addition to the 11, another three patients’ cancer went undiagnosed.
Among the deceased are:
A number of patients are terminally ill. Of the 11 delayed diagnoses, three were detected by audit, the remainder largely due to patients re-presenting at UHK.
South/South West Hospital Group chief operations officer Gerard O’Callaghan conceded that “the delay in treatment had a serious impact” on the patients.
Claire O’Brien, clinical director at UHK, said there was “a strong likelihood” the four had died prematurely.
“Everyone knows the earlier the diagnosis the better,” Dr O’Brien said.
The hospital, the group, and the HSE apologised “sincerely and unreservedly” to patients and families harmed by delayed diagnoses when the review was published yesterday.
Padraig O’Connell, the solicitor representing two of the patients has called for a written apology. He said the general apology did not suffice and he wanted it in writing for his clients.
High Court proceedings have been issued in the case of one of his clients.
The trigger for what was described as “the biggest radiology look-back carried out in this country”, came in the form of three serious diagnostic errors notified to the hospital in July and August last year and related to the workload of one locum consultant radiologist.
Ultimately, more than 46,000 scans relating to more than 26,700 patients between March 2016 and July 2017 were reviewed, of which 105 were of “significant clinical concern”.
The review did not apportion blame — it said its sole purpose was to “examine potential patient safety issues” — nor does it imply that the harm caused was “exclusively attributable” to the radiologist whose work was reviewed.
“This would be a matter for the Medical Council,” it says.
However, it does say “concerns had been raised regarding the level of activity the individual was undertaking and a small number of doctors... had expressed clinical reservations in relation to the quality of some of the reports”.
The review said the radiologist’s review of X-rays “was in the upper limits of norms”, although it also says there are “no national or international guidelines indicating the volume of work to be performed by individual radiologists” and that there’s an element of “doctor discretion”.
The locum resigned in October 2017, having been put on administrative leave in July 2017. Fianna Fáil TD John Brassil, who has raised issues of under-resourcing and under-staffing at UHK, said the “root of this scandal is the way in which the South West Hospital Group leaves University Hospital Kerry isolated”.
The group was criticised by GPs last night for sending out “bundles of letters” advising GPs of patients whose clinical findings had altered on foot of the look- back, the night before the review was published.
Among the report’s recommendations are that: