Bombshell of missed cancers

By esther hayden and david tucker

Published 27/02/2016 | 00:00

Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, is concerned at the length of time the review has taken.
Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, is concerned at the length of time the review has taken.

A woman whose father was one of the 12 cases of missed bowel cancer at Wexford General Hospital said it is essential that the HSE publish a report into the misdiagnosis as soon as possible.

Dee Fitzpatrick whose father James is now being treated for cancer, is one of around 12 patients, including a man who has since died of the disease, who underwent a bowel cancer test in the hospital in 2013 and 2014.

However, shockingly, despite undergoing the colonoscopy procedure and being given the all-clear, they were later found to have the disease.

Ms Fitzpatrick said that wondering how different life would be for her father if the cancer was diagnosed at the time of the first test keeps her awake at night.

'It has been very difficult for him,' she told RTÉ's 'Drivetime' adding that the news that as many as 12 people could have been misdiagnosed was 'shocking, physically shocking'.

She said: 'It really unsettled dad'.

James was among 600 people asked to go for re-checks after BowelScreen, the free national screening programme for people in their sixties, discovered the first two cases of misdiagnosis at the end of 2014. She said when her father was first diagnosed last year the hospital said it could not be sure if the cancer was missed. It could have been an 'interval cancer', which can develop in the two years between screenings.

But following another meeting on Wednesday with the family they were told the hospital is now working on the premise it was misdiagnosed.

'It was a bit shocking when we saw in the media that there were 12 missed cases. We did not know if daddy was one of those.'

The family was contacted by Wexford General Hospital afterwards and was told doctors and staff were unable to warn families in advance of the details becoming public as they had no prior notice.

Dee said it was essential the report on how the cases happened be published as soon as possible for all the families involved.

The anxiety of wondering how different life would be for her father if the cancer was found initially is 'not a nice place to be in, she said.

'They are the things that can wake you up at night. We need to have the report published to give people answers.'

It is expected to be the end of next month before the report is complete.

The HSE says it regrets any distress caused to patients and their families over the missed cancers at Wexford General.

Blaming human error, Health Minister Leo Varadkar has said he is concerned that any cancers may have been missed at the hospital.

Details of missed cancer diagnoses were first published several months ago and involved a doctor at Wexford General Hospital and bowel screening between 2013 and 2014.

The specialist who carried out the colonoscopies was placed on paid leave and is no longer carrying out the procedure.

Mr Varadkar's spokesman said the Minister had been briefed on the issue since early 2015 and was 'concerned primarily that any cancers may have been missed'.

'The Minister is also concerned about the length of time the review has taken and is conveying to the HSE the need to improve quality assurance so that lessons can be learned and mistakes not repeated. He has been assured that there has been full open disclosure in these cases.'

A spokesman for Wexford General Hospital declined to comment and in a statement, the Ireland East Hospital Group said the Wexford General Bowel Screen re-check has been 'thoroughly and comprehensively investigated'.

The HSE said that 'in managing this matter, the priority was to address any patient concerns'.

'This has been completed and patients (and their families) have received full and open disclosure. The HSE regret any distress which has resulted for patients and all other parties.

'The public can be assured that we have acted quickly to ensure the safety of services in the Hospital concerned,' it said.

The HSE said it was also concerned that information regarding an ongoing confidential review has come into the public domain without authorisation.

'It should be noted that all relevant personnel have and are fully cooperating with the review. The HSE is not in a position to comment further at this stage,' the executive said in a statement.

Speaking during a visit to Wexford on Thursday last week, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said he is concerned over the revelation that one person may have died after a potential wrong cancer diagnosis at Wexford General Hospital.

'I think the (Bowel Screening) programme has to be evaluated in the light of this report for lessons to be learned and also to insure that mistakes are not made in to the future,' said Mr Martin.

'I do think we need more clarity, detail and transparency in relation to the entire situation that's been ongoing between 2013 and 2014,' he said during a press conference at the Talbot Hotel.

The issue of cancer misdiagnosis at Wexford General Hospital made headlines last year with the news that hundreds of patients who underwent colonoscopies at the hospital were subsequently recalled by the Hospital for further testing having originally been given the all clear. The recall was prompted after two patients developed cancer between bowel screenings having initially undergone screening as part of the BowelScreen programme in 2013 and 2014. Patients have since become aware of a failure to identify bowel cancer during the initial screening process.

It appeared upon review that it was by no means certain that the very end of the colon (bowel) was examined at the time of the initial colonoscopies. A review was initiated due to concerns in relation to the quality of the screening of colonoscopies between March, 2013 and December, 2014.

Wexford People

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