Hospital Admin Error Delayed Brain Tumour Treatment By 13 Months

Lawyer Urges Patients To Voice Concerns Over ‘Potentially Damaging’ Delays

15.11.2011

The family of a man who died of a brain tumour has spoken out for the first time after the hospital responsible for an administrative error that delayed his treatment by more than a year, and robbed him of months of his life, admitted a breach of duty.

Now their lawyer, from the North East office of Irwin Mitchell, has urged anyone who undergoes medical tests to make sure that they always receive confirmation of their results by raising concerns over delays with their doctor – and to never assume that ‘no news is good news’.

After suffering severe headaches Eddie Kirtley underwent a MRI scan at Sunderland Royal Hospital in December 2008, which showed signs of a slow-growing glioma. A follow-up appointment should have been arranged, but he was never contacted due to an incorrectly-filed letter – an error that was not discovered until a routine rheumatology appointment in January 2010.

In a letter sent in August 2011 the NHS Litigation Authority confirmed the Trust had admitted breach of duty, and medical law and patients rights expert Julia Cotterill is urging the NHS to learn lessons from the tragedy to ensure such errors don’t occur going forward.

Mr Kirtley, from Sunderland, developed symptoms of confusion and possible seizures, and a further scan in March 2010 suggested that the tumour had progressed. His symptoms deteriorated and he was referred for radiotherapy, but on 15 May 2010 he tragically died after just one radiotherapy session.

Julia Cotterill went on to say that an oncology report showed that Mr Kirtley could have had more precious time had he received the appropriate follow-up, and warned that people shouldn’t be frightened to chase their doctor if they do not receive their test results within the advised timescales.

She said: “People are often concerned about wasting doctors’ time and can be worried about chasing up their test results – often they’ll think that no news is good news. However, I would urge anyone who has been for tests and is still waiting for their results to make sure that they find out the outcome of the tests as soon as possible. It can prevent potentially damaging delays and, in some cases, can be a matter of life or death.”

Following Mr Kirtley’s death his wife, Jane, and son, Edward, turned to Irwin Mitchell to investigate how the basic admin error could have occurred. The case has now settled and Mrs Kirtley has received an undisclosed sum in damages from City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust.

Mrs Kirtley said: “Eddie’s diagnosis was devastating, and then to learn that an incorrectly-filed letter allowed him to go untreated for over a year was absolutely horrendous. Eddie was generally fit and very active, but after suffering a number of headaches he went see the doctor who referred him for a scan. Given his otherwise good health and as we weren’t contacted by the doctor, we thought the scan must not have found anything, but we couldn’t have been further from the truth.

“It was such a devastating way to lose him, we just needed to know how this was able to happen.”

Julia Cotterill added: “Regrettably no amount of money will ever bring Mr Kirtley back, but for his family this was about achieving justice in his name. Jane and Edward needed answers, to know how and why an incorrectly-filed appointment letter could go unnoticed for so long, as well as reassurances that the same error could not happen to anyone else.

“It is now imperative that the NHS learn from the basic, avoidable errors made during this process in order to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”