Francesca Angelini in The Sunday Times 23rd November 2014 reports: Dying mother sues over 5-month delay
A MOTHER of two with terminal breast cancer is suing the NHS for £750,000 after she was forced to wait 5½ months before being seen by a specialist, despite an urgent referral from her GP.
Katie Maytum, 35, went to her local doctor in Maesteg, south Wales, in July 2010 after noticing a lump in her left breast.
The GP, concerned that it had been present for six weeks and was easily distinguishable, faxed an urgent referral form to the South West Wales Cancer Network, which brings together organisations involved in planning, commissioning and provision of cancer care across the region.
But after reviewing the referral, Vummiti Muralikrishnan, a consultant surgeon at the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend, downgraded it to routine and classed the case as not one of “urgent suspected cancer”.
At the time Maytum, mother to Megan and Zac, was working for an estate agent while training to become a mental health nurse.
In documents lodged for a High Court hearing in Cardiff that is due to begin tomorrow, Maytum’s lawyers claim Muralikrishnan was negligent. The surgeon will argue that the downgrade was reasonable.
Increasingly concerned about the lump, Maytum returned to her GP practice in September 2010. She claims she was told that, because she had already been referred, she should wait to hear from the hospital.
Maytum says she called the hospital on several occasions to ask what was happening but received notification only in December 2010 of an appointment booked for 13 January, 2011. An ultrasound scan performed on that day revealed that she had cancer.
She underwent surgery and lengthy chemotherapy treatment but was told in April this year that the cancer had worsened. She has been given 18 months to live. Maytum, who is due to get married this month, believes the delay in diagnosis and treatment contributed to her developing advanced cancer.
Her grandmother and four great-aunts all had breast cancer but the history of the disease in the family was not noted on the referral form from the GP.
Under guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), Maytum should have been seen within a fortnight of the urgent referral being made.
NHS Wales is arguing that, rather than follow the Nice advice, it used the rules for managing referral to treatment waiting times, an alternative set of guidelines that allow urgent referral times to be downgraded and which do not require a two-week response for suspected cancer patients.
In documents submitted to the court, Maytum’s lawyers say that “as a result of the [trust’s] negligence she has been deprived of a cure for her cancer. Alternatively she has or is likely to suffer a loss of years of life which . . . is in the region of 44 years”.
Her damages claim includes the “loss of unquantifiable services of a wife and mother”. These include £7,500 a year from April 2017 to April 2027, when her younger son will be 21, to cover the cost of a nanny for 20 hours a week at £6.93 an hour.
NHS Wales admits Maytum’s referral was downgraded and that, under the hospital’s own internal rules, she should have been given an appointment within three months.
The case comes amid criticism of NHS Wales for missing key waiting time treatment targets. Figures released earlier this month showed just 85%of patients diagnosed with cancer started treatment within the 62-day target between July and September this year. The target set by the Labour-led Welsh government is 95%.
Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, which runs the Princess of Wales Hospital, was the worst-performing trust with only 81% of patients suspected of having cancer and urgently referred by their GP starting treatment within 62 days. The hospital is also at the centre of a police inquiry into allegations of neglect regarding vulnerable patients.
Tom Goodhead, a member of Maytum’s legal team, said: “We are not able to comment on the specifics of the case due to the ongoing nature of the proceedings. However, this is a tragic human story which raises issues of both alleged medical negligence and the effects of the devolution settlement in Wales.”
Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board said it was unable to comment.
Challenged about missed cancer waiting times targets, a spokesman for the Welsh government said: “We are determined to ensure every person in Wales gets the best quality care they need and we are continuing to work closely with health boards to make further improvements.
David Haslam in the Telegraph 24th Jan 2014 says: NHS patients should be pushy with GPs about treatment … and Mr Hunt for England said Patients told to go online in radical NHS reform in NHS reality … Oh dear…. She was assertive, and in Wales where Mr Hunt has no jurisdiction, but was still seen too late. Rationing by exclusion, and lack of sufficient assertion? No wonder patients opt out of the Health Services and choose private care.