Hospital apology too late

When medical treatment goes wrong it can have devastating consequences. The distress suffered by the patients and their families is sometimes aggravated by the insensitivity of the hospital management.

SA of Whitehaven was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 2015. She was a happily married 60 year old, with 2 children and 3 grandchildren. The diagnosis was accepted with courage and bravery, and she placed her trust in the medical staff looking after her.

After the initial diagnosis at the West Cumberland Hospital, S was referred to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle for further investigations and treatment. Unfortunately it was at the Freeman Hospital that a mistake was made, with tragic consequences for S and her family. One of the investigations was a bronchoscopy procedure, where a small camera is used to examine the windpipe and areas of the lung. S was booked in for this procedure at the Freeman on 10 December 2015. It was carried out by a trainee doctor under supervision. The trainee did not insert the instrument correctly, and it was mistakenly placed upside down and into S’s oesophagus (gullet). When the trainee tried to remove the instrument S’s oesophagus was torn.

The tear to her gullet caused her terrible problems. She needed to be fed with a PEG tube and suffered from repeated infections. All of this delayed the start of treatment for her cancer and sadly she died on 19th May.

S had received a letter from Newcastle in February 2016 explaining what had happened. She instructed Price Slater Gawne’s David Dawson to pursue a compensation claim on her behalf, and shortly after being instructed, when it was known that she did not have much time left, David wrote to the Freeman Hospital on her behalf suggesting that it would provide comfort to S and her family in her final days if the hospital “could offer an apology for the injury she suffered during the bronchoscopy which has effectively deprived her of the prospect of any form of treatment for her cancer.”

The coroner was informed of S’s death, and has commenced an investigation. A post mortem examination confirmed that she had suffered a “traumatic oesophageal perforation” which contributed to her death. The coroner has requested information from the medical staff involved in her treatment.

The funeral was held on 31 May. That same day the Chief Executive of the Newcastle Hospitals Trust Sir Leonard Fenwick CBE sent a letter of apology expressing “an unreserved apology for the distress incurred to your goodself”. That letter was addressed to S, who had died 12 days before the letter was written.

Needless to say, the apology letter has caused further unnecessary distress to S widower, J and his children. The family feel that another apology is due.