Watchdog finds ‘unreasonable delay’ in cancer diagnosis

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A watchdog has ordered a GP practice to apologise to the widow of a cancer patient after finding an “unreasonable delay” in referring him to a specialist for a cancer diagnosis.

The widow complained to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman over the treatment of her husband at the practice in Fife.

A report reveals the man, known only as Mr A, attended the practice 10 times in six months with unresolving shoulder pain.

He was prescribed a variety of painkillers but his request for a CT scan to check for cancer was refused.

One doctor told him he definitely did not have lung cancer.

When he was finally referred for the scan by the sixth different doctor he saw, he was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer.

The ombudsman, Rosemary Agnew, upheld the complaint from the patient’s widow of an unreasonable delay in referring her late husband to a specialist and ordered the practice to apologise to her.

Ms Agnew found “serious failings” and said the patient and his family suffered “significant personal injustice” through the delayed diagnosis.

She found four out of the six doctors who saw the patient at the practice, which has not been named, failed to take appropriate action to try and determine the cause of the pain.

She found these GPs did not adhere to national guidelines for suspected cancer referrals which state any signs or symptoms of chest or shoulder pain persisting for longer than six weeks despite a normal chest x-ray should result in an urgent suspicion of cancer referral.

The ombudsman’s report states: “We also found that one of the GPs involved had incorrectly advised Mr A that he absolutely did not have cancer, which was an inaccurate statement to have made as at that stage a specialist opinion had not been obtained. This would have given Mr A false reassurance.

“We found that the GPs had failed to consider the complete picture in that Mr A had attended the practice on numerous occasions within a short timeframe and they dealt with the symptoms reported at the time of the consultations.

“They had not fully considered the previous consultations which would have allowed them to be better informed of the situation.”

However, she found two of the GPs, the one who gave his first consultation in March 2015 and the final one who referred him for a CT scan in August that year, did take appropriate action.

During the watchdog’s investigation into the complaint, the practice said the apparent delay in referral for further investigation was assumed to be as the patient was otherwise well, his pain was initially helped with painkillers and there were a lack of signs of serious disease on examination or investigation by the practice.

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