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Wednesday, 23 April 2014

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Cumbria hospital bosses accept liability over breast cancer test errors

Hospital bosses have apologised to three breast cancer patients wrongly given the all-clear and accepted liability.

Christine Hullock photo
Christine Hullock

But one of the affected women, who this morning received a letter of apology, said she remains unsure as to how much responsibility they are accepting.

It follows a major investigation into the routine screening service at Carlisle and Whitehaven, which was suspended in July 2010 after a watchdog raised concerns that cases were being missed.

A review concluded that not enough follow up tests were being carried out – resulting in 16 women who had been told they were cancer-free being recalled for treatment.

Clinical negligence solicitors are investigating the cases of at least 19 women who have come forward with concerns about their diagnosis at the Cumberland Infirmary and West Cumberland Hospital.

Today, North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs both hospitals, announced it was making early admissions of liability in the cases of three women. Bosses say they will be sending out formal letters of apology where appropriate and will continue to work closely with solicitors involved to investigate the others, with the aim of achieving “satisfactory resolution” of any claims.

Christine Hullock, 65, of Penrith, was among the 16 women. She received a letter admitting that her cancer should have been diagnosed four-and-a-half months earlier. However, it also states the delay did not affect her treatment, prognosis or life expectancy.

Mrs Hullock, who has since undergone mastectomy and reconstruction operations, disputes this.

She said: “That’s not true. I had an interview with a professor who said that although I would have lost a breast anyway, I’ve also lost part of my life span.”

She is also angry at the tone of the letter and the “lack of compassion” shown to the women by the trust.

“Again they write to you but do not put it into English. They have not told me what I need to know. I didn’t want to go through this all again. This has never been about money. It’s about integrity and principles the trust should be living by,” she added.

The trust’s medical director Mike Walker said: “We are now in a position to accept liability in three cases and have apologised to the women involved. This organisation is committed to providing an excellent service and we recognise the importance of learning from mistakes of this nature. We have taken steps to ensure a similar incident does not occur and apologise unreservedly for shortcomings in their care.”

Following suspension of the service in 2010, more than 1,600 tests were reviewed and dozens of women were recalled for further checks. A report by Cumbria’s public health director, Professor John Ashton, concluded that 16 women had been wrongly given the all-clear between April 1, 2007 and June 29, 2010. He made a series of recommendations to ensure lessons were learnt.

The service was allowed to restart at both hospitals six months later, under the leadership of experts from Newcastle.

Carlisle-based Burnett’s Solicitors has been approached by at least 19 women. They include 10 of the women identified in the original investigation. It has also been looking into the cases of other women with concerns about their treatment under the screening service at various times – including some from after it was re-launched.

However hospital bosses stress that all of the recommendations made in Dr Ashton’s report have been fully implemented.

By working with Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, they say the mammogram service is now part of a much wider screening unit and can continually develop.

All consultant radiologists working in the breast screening service have completed additional training.

The trust’s own governance systems have been reviewed and strengthened.

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