What took NHS so long to flag cancer error?


A patient who was one of 850 incorrectly informed that she may have cancer, has claimed the NHS Trust at the centre of the blunder told her it was not going to contact the patients affected.

Last week the Observer broke the news that 850 people living in the East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust area, which includes Hastings, Rother and Eastbourne, had been mistakenly sent an incorrect patient information leaflet.

The leaflet indicated the recipient had been referred to hospital for an urgent appointment as their symptoms may indicate cancer.

Pamela Voice, of Pett Level, said she received one of the “inappropriate” leaflets on March 18.

Pamela, a former outpatient’s sister at a London teaching hospital, contacted the hospital the same day.

She said: “This error was confirmed and I then requested that a generic letter be sent out immediately to all patients concerned so that any undue distress and anxiety could be relieved.

“I gathered that some patients had been phoning the hospital in some distress.

“I was telephoned the next day by a member of the patient liaison department to confirm that no letter would be sent out.”

Pamela formally complained to the trust and enlisted the support of Hastings MP Amber Rudd.

It wasn’t until last week that a letter apologising for the mistake, made by a third party, arrived.

Pamela said: “It is my belief that hospitals have a duty of care to prioritise the well being of patients, not only clinically, but in all aspects of communications with patients.

“It would have taken one person at the Conquest less than half a day’s work to compose a short holding letter and mail it out to those potentially affected by the error, thus alleviating nearly two months unnecessary stress.

“Trusts may choose to outsource administration, but please, patients first.”

The East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust has apologised.

It said there was a delay as the trust tried to find out how the mistake happened and how many people had been affected.

Liz Fellows Assistant Director Operations said: “We are sorry for not agreeing to send a letter of apology immediately to Mrs Voice when she originally contacted us.

“At that time, it was not possible to contact everyone affected as we needed to get a clear understanding of the nature of the error and the number of people affected.

“The investigation by the printing and distribution company took longer than we would have liked which resulted in the delay between this error being identified and an apology letter being sent.

“We fully acknowledge that this administrative error will have caused unnecessary anxiety to our patients and would like to thank those people who took the time to contact us to discuss the situation.

“Once again, we would like to apologise for any distress that occurred as a result of this administrative error.”