Exclusive: Scandal of cancer patients left in dark by doctors

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WOMEN suffering from cancer discovered they were being referred for treatment via the internet after doctors at a Yorkshire NHS trust refused to give them the diagnosis themselves, a shocking report reveals.

A number of leading specialists working in women’s services at the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust faced accusations of bullying, sexism, aggressive and incompetent behaviour on wards as well as starting work late and finishing early, according to an independent review.

The report said some doctors at the trust, serving half a million people in Wakefield, Pontefract and Dewsbury, carried out work worth £28,000 over a 10-month period, while others brought in work worth £300,000 in a similar number of clinics and saw two-three times as many patients.

It uncovered high rates of sickness absence among staff, low morale and “staggering” reliance on locum junior doctors.

“Unacceptable behaviour” that was allowed to go unchallenged included a number of consultants apparently refusing to pass on cancer diagnoses to patients, instead leaving it to cancer specialists. This had left some women to discover via the trust’s website they had been referred to a specialist cancer clinic without any prior discussion with their doctor.

The review team ruled services were “fundamentally safe” but made 18 recommendations, concluding decisive action against a number of “disruptive individuals” had been lacking.

“We are not advocating a police state within the hospital here, but a culture of non-acceptance of such things needs to be developed, as does a consistent and visible response from the senior management team in addressing poor behaviour,” they said.

The report by experts from Southampton was drawn up last April but has only now been released to the Yorkshire Post. It was ordered over concerns about rising complaints and errors in maternity care and ahead of plans for a huge reconfiguration of services including the potential downgrading of the Dewsbury maternity unit to a midwife-led service.

Dewsbury Tory MP Simon Reevell said: “What the report reveals is absolutely appalling. It is the sort of arrogance that has no place in the professions in this day and age. Hospitals are there for the benefit of patients first and not for the benefit of consultants. It is incumbent upon them to lead by example.”

The British Medical Association said it was “disturbed” to read some of the report findings but it was “reassuring to learn... that the issues raised are being dealt with”.

Sue Cannon, director of quality and nursing at NHS Calder- dale, Kirklees and Wakefield, said: “Patient safety is our first consideration when we commission services and we are continuing to monitor the services covered in this review very closely.”

Mid Yorkshire medical director Prof Tim Hendra said action had been taken. “I am confident we have seen significant improvements as a result and have no current concerns about the attitudes and behaviour of our clinicians.”

Acting chief executive Tracey McErlain-Burns said substantial changes had been made to provide a “consistent, clinically led, quality service”. Analysis of complaints suggested professional attitudes had improved.

“Unacceptable behaviour amongst colleagues or a poor professional approach to patients and families simply will not be tolerated,” she said.

In December, the Care Quality Commission said maternity care in Dewsbury and Wakefield was safe but staff were “not always appropriately deployed to meet the needs of patients”.

Recommendations accepted in full

HOSPITAL chiefs accepted the report’s 18 recommendations in full including:

Clarifying the obligations of consultants in ward duties, attendance at clinics, participation in rotas, engaging with new technology and start and finish times in theatre.

Action to tackle unacceptable behaviour including bullying, and aggressive or incompetent behaviour on wards.

An urgent overhaul of out-of-hours cover.

Creating a unified service with common standards of care and practice, with staff rotated between hospital sites.

Tackling high sickness rates in all staff which led to disruption.