Pamela North died in 2016 after doctors failed five times to detect bladder cancer
A grandmother died after doctors failed five times to detect her cancer, an investigation has found.
Pamela North was referred to hospital by her GP with suspected bladder cancer in February 2015. But it would be a year before she was diagnosed because King George Hospital in Ilford, Essex, failed to carry out a basic MRI scan.
Doctors performed a series of other tests which suggested she had cancer but they were unable to confirm the disease and start treatment.
The tragic case of Mrs North – who died in May 2016 – was investigated by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Rob Behrens, who found the hospital guilty of a series of failings.
Had Mrs North’s cancer been diagnosed nearly a year earlier, she would have had a 70 per cent chance of survival. To make matters worse, Mr Behrens said the hospital had refused to accept responsibility for the mistakes and caused ‘significant distress’ to her family.
Mrs North, who lived in Dagenham, Essex, died at the age of 73 after receiving palliative care for two months.
She had seven grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and had worked as a school cleaner before retiring in the late 1980s.
The grandmother from Dagenham in Essex, died after hospital’s nine-month diagnosis delay
Mr Behrens investigated the case only after her son James North complained about her care.
Mr North, a painter and decorator who also lives in Dagenham, described the hospital trust’s actions and response as ‘disgusting’.
‘She had a 70 per cent chance of survival, which is very high,’ he said. ‘The family are absolutely gutted. We had an apology from the trust but that doesn’t mean anything and doesn’t bring anybody back.
‘I don’t know how it was never picked up. We were just told it was down to failings in the system. The only way changes are made is by people complaining.’
Mrs North went to the hospital at least five times and had multiple tests in the year before she was diagnosed.
These included blood tests, a CT scan and three cystoscopies – where a tiny camera is inserted into the bladder – and all the results were abnormal.
Doctors had intended to perform an X-ray but this never happened because they were so short-staffed.
The cancer was eventually diagnosed in January 2016 by an MRI scan, which confirmed it was too advanced for treatment. If staff had carried out this scan straight away, her cancer would have been detected and she could have started radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
There are 10,000 new cases of bladder cancer in the UK each year and about 5,400 deaths.
Mrs North’s “painful death” from cancer could have been avoided, said the health ombudsman
Around 50 per cent of patients are still alive five years after they were diagnosed.
As with all cancers, survival rates are much higher if it is detected early.
Mr Behrens also found that an investigation by the trust in charge of the hospital – Barking, Havering and Redbridge – was inadequate.
He said: ‘Doctors and nurses do a tremendous job caring for hundreds of thousands of patients day in and day out.
‘But as this tragic case shows, it is vital that lessons are learnt by the NHS to prevent the same mistakes from happening to someone else. Time and time again, we find NHS investigations into deaths are inadequate, causing further suffering to families who have lost their loved-ones.’
The trust has since awarded the family £10,000 in compensation, which they donated to the local hospice that cared for Mrs North in her final days.
Matthew Hopkins, the chief executive of Barking, Havering and Redbridge NHS Trust, said: ‘I would like to take this opportunity to again apologise to Mrs North’s family for the distress they have suffered in this case.
‘We accept that we fell short of the quality of care we aspire to, and that the complaints process did not provide them with the appropriate reassurance.
‘We have made significant progress in the last two years since these events occurred.’