Derriford Hospital patient died after 'delayed cancer diagnosis'

General view images of Derriford Hospital
Derriford Hospital -Credit:BPM MEDIA

A Plymouth patient died after "delayed cancer diagnosis or misdiagnosis", according to new figures. The city's NHS Trust is one of the UK trusts to confirm a fatality following a Freedom of Information request.

Every NHS Trust in the country was asked for the number of instances of fatalities due to a delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis since 2021, up to and including any so far this year. It comes after Cancer Research UK warned last year that the UK’s progress in treating the disease is at risk of stalling due to slow and late diagnosis coupled with treatment delays.

No further details were given about the death recorded by University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust. The most fatalities due to a delayed cancer diagnosis and/or misdiagnosis were recorded by The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which had ten.

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A total of 124 NHS Trusts were contacted by Medical Negligence Assist and asked to provide the information. Ten denied the request either due to the request exceeding appropriate costs for retrieving the information or because their systems do not hold the information or allow their data to be aggregated in a way that would sufficiently answer the request.

A spokesperson from University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust said: “We are incredibly sorry to the family of this patient for their loss. While we cannot comment on individual patient cases, we take concerns regarding delays in cancer care very seriously and investigate their impact in order to make improvements.

"We would encourage patients and their families who have concerns about their care to contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service who will be able to provide support. As a Trust, we are committed to ensuring patients are diagnosed and treated in accordance with the National Cancer Waiting Times standards and we are consistently achieving the Faster Diagnosis Standard, with a plan to improve further on that performance in 2024-25.

"We are working with the Peninsula Cancer Alliance and continue to support and pursue developments that enable us to improve cancer diagnosis, treatment and care. It is vital that people who are concerned about cancer symptoms get checked out and we would advise contacting your GP as soon as possible.”

'Unacceptable' waits

There are three key cancer waiting time standards, with targets indicating how well services are doing. Cancer Research UK said last month that the latest NHS figures on the "Faster Diagnosis Standard" showed 78.1% of people were diagnosed, or had cancer ruled out, within 28 days of an urgent referral in February 2024. The target is 75%.

However only 63.9% of people in England received their diagnosis and started their first treatment within two months (or 62 days) of an urgent referral in February 2024. The target for this 62-day referral to treatment standard is 85%. And 91.1% of people started treatment within 31 days of doctors deciding a treatment plan in February 2024. The target for the 31-day decision to treat standard is 96%.

The charity said it represented "unacceptable waits for cancer patients." It added in its report: "Behind every one of these missed targets are patients, friends, family and loved ones who are facing unacceptably long and anxious waits to find out if they have cancer and when they can begin treatment.

“Whilst it is welcome that the Faster Diagnostic Standard (FDS) of 75% has been met, which is testament to the hard work of NHS staff in responding to growing demands for diagnostic tests, the 75% target is set well below the originally recommended target of 95%. We have not seen all cancer waiting times met since 2015 which represents a long-term failure to plan and invest in the NHS workforce and key facilities and equipment.”

Rob Behrens, England’s Health ombudsman has stressed the imperative of safe and effective care within the NHS. He said: "Patient safety will always be at risk in environments that are understaffed and where staff are exhausted and under unsustainable pressure."

He called for “concerted and sustained action from the government” to ensure NHS leaders can focus on safeguarding patients.

Head of Medical Negligence at MNA, Nick Banks said: “Whilst claiming against medical insurance agencies can seem daunting, such claims are the best way to ensure funding is made available for all of the patient’s short-term and longer-term needs. This can make a real difference to how quickly that patient is able to regain their former quality of life.

“Bringing such claims can also help the medical profession to identify important areas of improvement, hopefully ensuring that no future patients ever fall victim to the same mistakes."