Family Call For Review Of NHS Recruitment Procedures To Prevent Future Needless Suffering

Serious Failings Highlighted In Treatment


The brother of a man who ‘suffered needlessly’ after a medical expert repeatedly mistook an aggressive cancer for a sore throat has spoken of his anger after learning that the hospital didn’t even interview the locum consultant in charge of his care before appointing him. 

Gordon Thornton, 60, died after months of painful treatment for the fatal tumour that had developed in his throat. And his family believe that the errors made by Dr Gomez-Estancona prevented Gordon accessing the care and pain relief he so desperately needed.

Now Gordon’s brother Dr Everard Thornton is calling for more stringent checks to be put in place before locum doctors are allowed to treat patients after receiving an apology from the Macclesfield General Hospital and an admission that they failed in Gordon’s care, and learning that others had also suffered at the hands of the ‘rogue doctor’.

Medical law and patient’s rights experts from Irwin Mitchell, who represented the family in their battle for justice, confirmed that following the tragic death of Gordon an investigation carried out by the GMC in August 2010 found serious failings in his treatment, which saw conditions imposed on Gomez-Estancona’s registration

The doctor, whose colleagues had expressed ‘great concerns’ about his ability to treat patients during his time at the hospital, particularly in relation to his language and communication skills, was suspended altogether following a further GMC investigation earlier this year that looked into the cases of four other patients he’d treated.

Gordon’s family, who are from the Wirral, say justice will only be done when the NHS demonstrates that lessons have truly been learnt and more stringent recruitment processes put in place after it came to light that a Consultant in ENT at Macclesfield Hospital admitted he found Dr Gomez-Estancona via an agency and had considered his CV but didn’t interview him or check his competence prior to his appointment.

In 2006 father of one Gordon was referred by his GP to see a specialist as he had a persistent sore throat and a painful history of earaches. There had been a noticeable change in his voice tone, and suffering from catarrh was a cause for concern. 

But ENT specialist Dr Gomez-Estancona detected no problems, and Gordon was prescribed a mouthwash and sent home only to return to the hospital for an MRI scan of his ears at a later date. But his pain and symptoms were so extreme that within days he was forced to return to his GP, pleading for help.

Sadly, after further tests and hospital visits, seven months later he was diagnosed with cancer of the throat. By this stage it was too advanced to be cured and he was given palliative care until he passed away in August 2008.

The family have since received a five-figure out of court settlement from the East Cheshire NHS Trust March 2011 which is responsible for Macclesfield General Hospital, and an apology from the Deputy Chief Executive.

Leena Savjani from Irwin Mitchell said: “This was never about the money for the Thorntons, but about making sure no other family will ever have to go through what they have.

“Sadly, by the time Gordon was diagnosed with cancer, the tumour in his throat was so large he could no longer swallow, speak and breathe properly, and had a tube to help him breathe and speak inserted in his throat (tracheostomy) as well as a feeding tube inserted into his stomach.

"Although we will never know for certain whether the outcome for Gordon may have been different if a diagnosis had been made earlier, his pain and suffering during the final months of his life could certainly have been reduced and palliative care could have begun sooner.”

Leena continues: “As a firm we are determined to continue to fight on behalf of our clients to ensure patient safety is always a top priority – Gordon’s case and those of the additional four patients who suffered at the hands of Dr Gomez-Estancona - highlight the very real need to extend this to people working for hospital Trust’s temporarily and that rigorous checks about suitability for employment are in place.”

Commenting on his family’s ordeal, Gordon’s brother, Dr Everard Thornton said: “It seems unbelievable to me and my family that there was a failure to interview a consultant.

“I appreciate that this was likely a rogue doctor and that most medical staff do their job, and do it well. But the fact remains that my brother suffered unnecessarily as a result of the treatment he received.

“It is imperative that the NHS learn from what happened to him, that more stringent measures are put in place to protect patients, especially when there is a possibility of communication difficulties. Surely things like this can’t be judged simply by looking at a CV.

“Whilst we have received an apology from the East Cheshire Hospital Trust and are pleased that Dr Gomez-Estancona has been suspended, I want assurances that steps have been taken to put recruitment processes right within all hospitals, so that no other families suffer in the way we have.

“I also want to urge doctors to request repeat tests if they feel symptoms of a patient remain consistent with a condition, and to do it quickly, even if the all clear has been given by a specialist at a hospital. As was shown by my brother’s case, consultants can make costly mistakes and are not always right when it comes to making a diagnosis.”