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Cancer patient ‘traumatised' by cancelled operation

The patient was admitted to the City for surgery in January at 7am but was informed eight hours later by a surgeon that not enough staff were available. Picture by Lynne Cameron, Press Association 
Seanín Graham

A CANCER patient whose surgery was cancelled an hour before she due to go into theatre and then suffered disappointment again 24 hours later was left “traumatised”, her daughter has said.

Details came to light after the Irish News revealed that five urgent cancer operations were 'postponed' since December due to winter pressures - a highly unusual development that has raised "serious concerns" among some doctors.

The latest cancellation took place in Belfast City Hospital last month - but was not recorded in official figures given to this newspaper following a request to the Health and Social Care Board last week.

The Board, which is responsible for monitoring the performance of the north’s five health trusts, was unable to comment on the case last night and referred it back to the Belfast trust press office - which was also unable to comment.

The Belfast patient, who is in her sixties and was diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer, was admitted to the City for major surgery in late January at 7am but was informed eight hours later by a surgeon that not enough staff were available after a previous operation had 'run over'.

It is understood medical staff told her there was a '20 to 30 per cent chance' the surgery would take place the next day.

The distressed patient fasted again but was told the following morning there was no availability and she would be 'put back on the waiting list'.

Her daughter, who is a health professional, lobbied on her behalf along with a Macmillan cancer nurse - and the operation was carried out earlier this month.

The patient was too distressed to be named.

But her daughter raised concerns about other cancer patients who may not have the confidence to speak up after having operations cancelled at short notice.

"After the devastation of receiving her diagnosis, my mother had herself geared for going into hospital and had fasted and just assumed the surgery would go ahead," she said.

"The surgeon came down and informed her in the late afternoon he ‘wouldn’t be able to hold a team’ - in others words there wasn’t enough staff. The emotional distress was terrible as she had mentally prepared herself for the surgery and then had it cancelled again the next morning. She was even more traumatised.

"On the flip-side, her GP and the hospital team who diagnosed the cancer were excellent. It was only when it came to the surgery that things fell apart."

Dr George O’Neill, a GP based in west Belfast, said he was aware of a separate case in which a young mother with a rare tumour had her surgery put back by three weeks.

"I would have serious concerns about these cases as they are ‘red flag’ surgeries. I am also concerned about how the information is recorded by the board."

Dr Michael McBride, the chief medical officer for Northern Ireland and acting chief executive of the Belfast trust, said when running a service that has "many demands on it" there will be times – even in the cases of cancer patients – that postponements occur at short notice.

He accepted that cancellations were "psychologically traumatic" for the patient and their families.

"As CMO I would apologise to any patient whose care is delayed or compromised due to some of challenges we face in terms of routine planned surgeries," he told the Irish News.

"These patients are the exception rather than the rule. The fact that it happens at all, that it affects anyone, is not something which we would want to happen. Clearly we appreciate the very difficult personal circumstances but I don’t know the details of this case.

"…But these are the practicalities of running a health service. Operations can over-run if you run into a complication with the case before. It becomes impossible to do a particular procedure on a particular list. In some circumstances the surgery is particularly complex and requires an intensive care bed afterwards."

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