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GP rapped for cancer errors
A GP and a health trust have apologised to a North Yorkshire cancer patient after being strongly criticised over her poor treatment.
The Health Service Ombudsman said Dr Elizabeth Bradley, of Terrington Surgery, wrongly diagnosed Christine Hutchinson as suffering from fibromyalgia, and prescribed diazepam and later ibuprofen after she paid repeated visits with her partner to the surgery in worsening pain.
She suffered respiratory failure and spent almost three weeks in intensive care, when a tube was inserted into the trachea, but since then has undergone chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant which has left her currently in remission.
Dr James Johnstone, director of health investigations for the Ombudsman, said Mrs Hutchinson had noticed a “hump” in her back and suffered back and chest pain in March 2008, and noticed a lump on her head in July.
She saw her GP with worsening pain in August, 2008, and made various visits to the doctor but according to records, pain management was not discussed at all and mild pain relief — ibuprofen – was not prescribed until September 30.
He said Dr Bradley:
• Diagnosed fibromyalgia without examining her, when this had been necessary
• Did not attempt to exclude other possible diagnoses through investigations
• Failed to inform Mrs Hutchinson of her blood test results and failed to follow a pathology laboratory’s advice to carry out further tests.
Dr Johnstone said Mrs Hutchinson experienced unnecessary pain and associated distress until she was admitted to hospital where she received morphine.
He said an oncology adviser had said further investigations were necessary when Mrs Hutchinson presented with back pain, and obvious causes such as gardening, were ruled out. “This should be done promptly, which does not appear to be the case here,” said the adviser, who said it was extremely likely X-rays of her skull or spine would have shown the typical changes of myeloma.
Dr Johnstone said the GP’s standard of care for Mrs Hutchinson and her record-keeping both fell so far short of the applicable standard as to amount to “service failure,” and the handling of her later complaint by both the GP and NHS North Yorkshire and York amounted to maladministration.
He recommended the GP should provide Mrs Hutchinson with a full acknowledgement of the service failure and maladministration, apologise and pay compensation for her prolonged pain and distress.
He said the trust should have consulted with Mrs Hutchinson before deciding whether or not it should deal with her complaint, and should have been “customer-focussed” and dealt with her complaint promptly and sensitively, bearing in mind her individual circumstances. He recommended it should also apologise and give her compensation.
Mrs Hutchinson said she had now received an apology and compensation from both the doctor and trust, but said: “This isn’t about the compensation. I am absolutely appalled by the way I was treated and am speaking out to try to ensure this doesn’t happen to anyone else in the future.
“This shouldn’t have happened under the NHS. I went to the Ombudsman because the trust did nothing in two years to resolve my complaint.” She added that she was lodging a complaint with the General Medical Council about Dr Bradley.
Jayne Brown, chief executive of NHS North Yorkshire and York, has written to Mrs Hutchinson to acknowledge and apologise for its failings.
She said an action plan was being prepared to prevent a recurrence of the practices which had been found to be “sub-optimal.”
The chief executive said in a statement to The Press: “We acknowledge there were things we could have done better when dealing with Mrs Hutchinson’s complaint. We have therefore accepted the Ombudsman’s findings and have apologised. We are currently preparing an action plan to improve the procedures the Ombudsman found to be below the expected standard.”
The Press made several attempts over the past week to contact Dr Bradley to give her opportunity to comment, but none had been received by yesterday.
However, in letters she sent to the trust in 2009 and 2010, she apologised for any errors made at the surgery and said she was very sorry to hear Mrs Hutchinson had been so ill.
She also said the surgery was a “single-handed very dedicated practice which strives to maintain a high quality of good patient care” and said the fibromyalgia diagnosis had been made after attending a lecture by an expert in the condition.
In a letter received by Mrs Hutchinson last week, Dr Bradley apologised for “any distress or prolonged pain caused to you by any actions of the practice,’ and acknowledged that the service provided to her had failed.
She added: “The practice has taken the opportunity of learning from these failings and has substituted several changes to the way such matters are dealt with, including the handling of complaints.”