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Hertsmere MP James Clappison joins other MPs to criticise hospital referral errors
Updated 4:03pm Wednesday 5th February 2014 in News
MPs in south west Hertfordshire have described a hospital error that has led to more than 800 cancer referrals being reviewed as “unacceptable”.
West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust today said more than 120 cases are still under review after it discovered patients who missed first appointments were not being offered a second, in line with NHS guidelines.
Following the revelations, five MPs covering the area - Watford’s Richard Harrington, south west Herts’ David Gauke, Hertsmere’s James Clappison, Hemel Hempstead’s Mike Penning and St Albans’ Anne Main - released a joint statement condemning the oversight.
The MPs also said “serious” questions needed to asked as to why the error, which was discovered in November, was not picked up earlier.
The statement said: "There is absolutely no doubt that the trust’s failure to follow the correct administrative process for urgent referrals is unacceptable, and deeply wrong.
"That there have been such tragic consequences makes this so much worse and, first and foremost, our thoughts must be with the people personally affected by this and the families who have been contacted with this news in recent weeks.”
The problems at the trust related to patients who were referred for an appointment by GPs or dentists with symptoms that could signify cancer.
After discovering the error relating to second appointments, the trust reviewed 810 cases and found no problems in 686 of them.
Of the remaining 124, two patients have been found to have died since their referral. In one of these the trust said a delay seeing the patient could have contributed to the death. It is currently contacting the family of the second deceased patient.
A third patient was found to have had their cancer diagnosis delayed because of the error, but the trust said the condition was still caught at an early stage.
The trust is still reviewing the cases of 121 patients in relation to the error.
It has also commissioned an independent investigation into the cause of the problems. Two managers have been suspended while it is carried out.
The MPs acknowledged that the new trust’s new management regime, ushered in by chief executive Samantha Jones, who started last year, had been overhauling the system of monitoring referrals.
They added: “The serious question that needs to be asked is why this was not picked up earlier. Why did the previous management team not seek to make the same improvements that the new management has undertaken or look at whether procedures were being properly adhered to.
"What is of greater concern, and should absolutely be investigated, is whether this problem is limited to West Herts and if other trusts should also be reviewing their arrangements for patients who miss urgent referrals.
“We will be keeping in touch with the trust over the coming weeks to ensure that investigations continue to the highest possible standard and that improvements continue to be made, but remain deeply concerned that the previous management allowed this to happen and feel strongly that there must be accountability for these mistakes once the inquiries are complete.”
Ms Jones said: "It is absolutely clear that the trust was not always following the correct administrative processes for these patients and we let them down.
"These concerns date back a number of years and were identified as part of the new management team’s commitment to improve the way we administer and manage patient care. I would like to apologise to each and every patient who has been affected and particularly to the relatives of those who have since died.
"We have of course made significant changes to help prevent this ever happening again and will share the outcome of our investigations with those affected and with the wider public."
Two managers have been suspended while the referral system problems are investigated. The trust has commissioned an external investigation, which will be led by the former NHS chief executive. It has also alerted the health watchdog, the Care Quality Commission to the review.
The hospital trust has set up a help line for anyone who has concerns in relation to the review on 01923 217100, which is open from 8am to 8pm seven days a week.
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