A former senior NHS official plans to sue the organisation after he had to pay a private hospital £20,000 for potentially life-saving cancer surgery because NHS care was suspended due to Covid-19.
Rob McMahon, 68, decided to seek private treatment after Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS trust told him that he would have to wait much longer than usual for a biopsy. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer after an MRI scan on 19 March, four days before the lockdown began.
McMahon was due to see a consultant urologist on 27 March but that was changed to a telephone consultation and then did not take place for almost two weeks.
“At that appointment, the consultant said: ‘Don’t worry, these things are slow-growing. You’ll have a biopsy but not for two or three months.’ I thought, ‘that’s a long time’, so decided to see another consultant privately for a second opinion.”
A PET-CT scan confirmed that he had a large tumour on both lobes of the prostate and a biopsy – both procedures were done privately – showed the cancer was at risk of breaking out of the prostate capsule and spreading into his body. He then paid to undergo a radical prostatectomy at a private Spire hospital.
Rob McMahon is one of the lucky ones. As a retired NHS chief executive, he knew how to navigate the complex healthcare system and he had the money to pay for a second opinionMary Smith, solicitor
“This is care that I should have had on the NHS, not something that I should have had to pay for myself. I had an aggressive cancer. I needed urgent treatment – there was no time to waste,”, he said. “With the pandemic, he added, “it was almost like a veil came down over the NHS. He worked for the NHS for 17 years as a manager in hospitals in London, Birmingham and Redditch, Worcestershire, and was the chief executive of an NHS primary care trust in Leicester.”
Mary Smith of Novum Law, McMahon’s solicitors, said: “Unfortunately, Rob’s story is one of many we are hearing about from cancer patients who have been seriously affected by the disruption to oncology services as a result of Covid-19.
“He’s one of the lucky ones. As a retired NHS chief executive, he knew how to navigate the complex healthcare system and he is extremely fortunate he had the money to pay for a second opinion privately. Not everyone has that advantage and it is those patients who will fall through the cracks, and lives will be lost,” she added.Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said McMahon’s case raised questions about the NHS’s £400m-a-month deal with private hospitals. “Patients had been told that the NHS had block-booked virtually the entire private healthcare sector’s capacity in response to the pandemic. So it is surprising to receive a report that there was apparently spare capacity in the private sector for life-saving surgery, which the NHS apparently did not secure for a patient who needed it.”
Matthew Hopkins, the NHS trust’s chief executive, apologised to McMahon “if any aspect of his care fell below the high standards we set for ourselves or if we failed to keep him informed about the decisions that were being made about his treatment”. The trust followed NHS and cancer-specific guidance about what tests and procedures should still be done in hospital during the pandemic. And it ensured that patients with the most urgent need, including those with cancer, were treated at a different site or local private hospital, he added.