Four people died in Leeds hospitals because of late or incorrect cancer diagnosis

Four people died under the care of Leeds NHS Trust after receiving an incorrect or late cancer diagnosis in the last three years.

In March England’s NHS Ombudsman warned “cancer patients could be put at risk because of over-stretched and exhausted health staff working in a system at breaking point and delays in diagnosis and treatment.”

It prompted law firm Medical Negligence Assist (MNA) to submit freedom of information requests to each NHS trust in England in order to quantify the scale of the issue.

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Leeds NHS Trust confirmed four deaths between 2021 and 2024 due to delayed cancer diagnosis and misdiagnosis, the fifth highest figures from English trusts. Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust had the highest number of deaths, confirming 10 patients had died after a late or incorrect diagnosis.

Leeds General InfirmaryLeeds General Infirmary
Leeds General Infirmary

Two such deaths were confirmed by Leeds NHS Trust in 2021, with another in both 2022 and 2023. As of April 2024, the trust says there have been no reported deaths due to delays in cancer diagnosis or misdiagnosis.

Rob Behrens, England’s Health ombudsman has stressed the importance of safe and effective care within the NHS.

“Patient safety will always be at risk in environments that are understaffed and where staff are exhausted and under unsustainable pressure,” he said.

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He called for “concerted and sustained action from the government” to ensure NHS leaders can focus on safeguarding patients.

This week new analysis of NHS data showed NHS England’s ambition to diagnose cancer in its earliest stages is “seriously off target”.

Dr Liz Fisher, senior fellow at the Nuffield Trust, said: “Delays to a cancer diagnosis pose real risks for people and an early diagnosis plays a pivotal role in determining the treatments available to people and determining outcomes.

“Detecting cancer early is vital to improving survival rates; for example, the rate of survival for bowel cancer drops significantly from 80% if caught in stage 2 to 11% at stage four.

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Only 74.2 per cent of patients in England with an urgent referral for suspected cancer in December 2023 received a diagnosis or had cancer ruled out within 28 days, which fails to meet the 75 per cent target.

Cancer Research UK released a report earlier this month on English cancer waiting times, saying: “Once again, the cancer waiting times published today represent unacceptable waits for cancer patients.”

The report adds: “Behind every one of these missed targets are patients, friends, family and loved ones who are facing unacceptably long and anxious waits to find out if they have cancer and when they can begin treatment.

“Whilst it is welcome that the Faster Diagnostic Standard (FDS) of 75% has been met, which is testament to the hard work of NHS staff in responding to growing demands for diagnostic tests, the 75% target is set well below the originally recommended target of 95%. We have not seen all cancer waiting times met since 2015 which represents a long-term failure to plan and invest in the NHS workforce and key facilities and equipment.”

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