Blog: Cancer misdiagnosis in Wexford general hospital

Karen Kearney
Karen Kearney

Karen Kearney, medical negligence solicitor at Ernest J. Cantillon Solicitors in Cork, writes about the latest medical negligence fiasco.

I read with a sense of déjà vu the recent newspaper reports on the leaked review of 12 cases of bowel cancer “missed” at Wexford General Hospital. Sadly, one of these 12 patients has since died of this illness.

These 12 patients were identified from a recall of 600 patients who had received colonoscopies (an investigation of the large bowel) at Wexford General Hospital in 2013 and 2014. Some of these patients received the colonoscopies as part of the National Bowel Service Programme (which has been in place since 2007 following the very sad death of Susie Long who died after a delay of seven months in getting a colonoscopy in the public hospital system).

The recall of the 600 patients at Wexford General Hospital followed the identification of two patients in October / November 2014 with interval cancer – a cancer that is detected between bowel screenings. This raised question marks about the quality of the screening which in turn triggered the recall and a review by Ireland East Hospital Group (IEHG) under which Wexford General Hospital is now managed.

It is unacceptable (in my view) that this report has not yet been published and is typical of the foot dragging by the HSE which the medical negligence department of Cantillons sees day after day in our work. In recent news reports, the IEHG has been quoted as saying “the recall of all patients and the subsequent report and its findings are in the final stages…once the report has been signed off it will need to be sent to all referenced parties within it before it can be published.”

This brings to mind a very sad case of mine involving an elderly gentleman who was exposed to, and contracted, Hepatitis B in another HSE run hospital, coincidentally also in the South East. Unbelievably, this hospital had engaged in a practice of using re-useable needle holding devices in the phlebotomy procedure (the practice of taking blood) up to 99 times! In this case, an investigation and look-back review was also carried out and despite the fact that several draft reports issued (which this firm had to fight tooth and nail in the litigation process to get), and despite assurances that the final report would be published, it never saw the light of day and is no doubt languishing in some dark corner of an office gathering dust.

At least, we have moved on somewhat from this practice of sweeping mistakes under the carpet but we have not moved fast enough or indeed far enough, in my view.

Mr. Leo Varadkar, Minister for Health, has been quoted as saying that he had been assured that there has been “full open disclosure in the cases”. We wouldn’t need these assurances by Leo Varadkar if he had done what he promised to do in February 2015, namely to make it mandatory for medical and nursing staff to admit errors that have caused harm to patients. Instead, he did a u-turn and the proposals in the Civil Liability (Amendment) Bill 2015 appear to be more concerned with protecting doctors and nurses who do make open disclosure than with giving patients and their families the right to open disclosure. The proposed new legislation merely supports a National Policy of Open Disclosure which has been in place since November 2013. Again, I and my colleagues here in Cantillons, have seen first-hand where this policy of open disclosure has not been complied with, time and time again.

In the meantime, one can only hope that the report of the IEHG is published without much more delay, for the sake of the patients who have been affected, and that lessons are learned from this sad debacle.

Blog: Cancer misdiagnosis in Wexford general hospital

  • Karen Kearney is a medical negligence solicitor at Ernest J. Cantillon Solicitors. You can view her profile here.
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