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Man died after excessive wait for cancer treatment


Organisation we investigated: Warrington and Halton NHS Foundation Trust

Date investigation closed: June 2019


The complaint

Mrs Harrison complained about the length of time it took the Trust to operate on her late husband, Mr Harrison’s, tumour. She said there was a six month delay from the Trust diagnosing him with bladder cancer in October 2016 to arranging surgery in April 2017. Sadly, he died in August 2017.

Mrs Harrison says her and her husband suffered extreme anxiety for many months while waiting for the Trust to arrange the operation.

Background

Mr Harrison had symptoms of blood in his urine so his GP referred him to the Trust on 14 October 2016. On 26 October, the Trust carried out tests, and having found a tumour, Mr Harrison was diagnosed with bladder cancer. 

The Trust carried out an endoscopy on 19 December to remove some of the tumour for further testing. The results of the endoscopy were discussed in a meeting on 11 January 2017. The Trust made a decision to operate on Mr Harrison’s cancer on 25 April 2017. 

In April, Mr Harrison attended the Trust’s Emergency Department with a swollen leg. The Trust ruled out deep vein thrombosis and the operation went ahead as planned on 25 April. During surgery, it became clear that the disease had spread and the procedure was abandoned.

Mr Harrison sadly died on 24 August. 

What we found

We fully upheld this complaint. We found there were significant delays in the Trust’s treatment of Mr Harrison’s cancer, who should have been given surgery no later than 11 February 2017. Having to wait until April 2017 significantly exceeded NHS guidelines for the maximum waiting time.

In addition, Mr Harrison went to hospital with a swollen leg in March 2017 but was not given a CT scan. Had a CT scan been given, it would have been shown that his cancer had spread and become inoperable. Instead, he was given surgery in April 2017 after it was too late.

While there is not enough evidence to say his death was avoidable, the Trust’s lack of urgency in acting meant that Mr Harrison was not given the best possible chance of survival.

Putting it right

We recommended that the Trust write to Mrs Harrison to acknowledge its failure to treat her husband’s cancer promptly enough. It has apologised to her for the uncertainty and distress she is now left with. We also recommended that the Trust should make a payment of £3,000 to her. This figure is not intended to place a value on Mr Harrison’s life, but simply to acknowledge the level of anxiety caused as a result of its failings. 

The Trust has agreed to develop a system to prevent future failings of the same nature. They should create an action plan to identify reasons for the failings and the learning taken from them. The plan should explain what they will do differently in the future, the timescales in which each action will be completed and how staff compliance will be monitored.