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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

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Cancer women must sue north Cumbria hospitals for compensation

Ten women whose breast cancer went undiagnosed due to problems with the screening service may now have to take their cases to court.

Mike Walker photo
Mike Walker

Bosses at the Carlisle and Whitehaven hospitals yesterday apologised to all of the women caught up in the scandal two years ago – when it emerged 16 patients had been wrongly given the all-clear.

They also announced that following investigations, they were making early admissions of liability in three of the cases – meaning they can now try to agree compensation.

But it has now emerged that the hospitals will not accept such liability in 10 more of the cases, while a further three are still being looked into.

Mike Walker, medical director at the North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, said they have written to 13 women who are split into three groups.

One is the group of three women in whose cases they accept delays in diagnosis has affected their treatment, prognosis or life expectancy.

In a further six of the cases, the trust accepts a degree of liability – that standards were not up to scratch and treatment was delayed as a result – yet it says that this did not affect their treatment or their long-term prognosis.

A final four women have been told that the trust is accepting no liability at all.

“The trust wants to apologise to any women who have been caught up in the screening review. They have all suffered in some way. But within that there are three groups.

“Cancer is a very variable condition – some are aggressive and some are not aggressive. There is a group that we do not think the delay in treatment affected prognosis or life expectancy,” he said.

Carlisle-based Burnett’s solicitors is representing all 10 of these women in the latter two groups.

Victoria Watson, from the firm’s medical law team, said that regardless of the trust’s view they will now continue with the legal process – and if necessary go to court.

The breast screening service at both hospitals was suspended in July 2010 after a watchdog raised concerns that not enough people were being referred for further tests.

A review concluded 16 women were wrongly given the all-clear between April 1, 2007 and June 29, 2010.

Penrith grandmother Christine Hullock had to undergo a mastectomy after her breast cancer went undetected for four-and-a-half months.

She is now among the six women who the trust accepts had delayed treatment but does not believe has suffered long-term consequences. Although she accepts she would still have needed the operation had her cancer been picked up earlier, she still believes the long delay has affected her life-span.

The 65-year-old has also been heavily critical of the way the hospital trust made its latest announcement.

She received her letter of apology and explanation via recorded delivery yesterday – arriving after the trust had released a public statement.

“I feel very sad that they haven’t learnt any lessons. They could have dealt with it so much better this time. They have still not treated us like human beings.

“For me the apology is two years too late.”

But Mr Walker said he was surprised by the criticism, saying they had tried to make the announcement in a way that was fair to all of the women.

“As there were 13 ladies that we needed to communicate with at the same time, it was felt the best way and the fairest way for them and their solicitors, was to receive a letter on the same day and by registered delivery,” he said.

Have your say

Its an absolute tragedy for these ladies. We should all support them through the physical pain and mental anguish of their illness; it's why I support the NHS and why I'm happy my taxes pay for their treatment. I don't agree that money meant to care for all should be diverted into a cash bonus for a few patients and lawyers just because they can find holes in their care which have no baring on their long term outcome. Tragic as these cases are, they are the lucky ones and it's because of the checks and balances in the Breast Screening Programme that they will survive cancer. Many do not. I want my taxes to go to helping them as well.

Posted by Tax payer on 19 November 2012 at 07:05

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