Grandmother’s painful death from cancer was avoidable, Ombudsman finds

A 73-year-old grandmother’s death from bladder cancer was avoidable, an investigation by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has found. She died following a hospital’s nine-month delay to diagnose her. An inadequate local investigation failed to recognise this, and her son subsequently brought a complaint about her care to the Ombudsman.

The complainant’s mother was referred to King George Hospital in Goodmayes, part of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, by her GP in February 2015 with suspected bladder cancer. Despite going to hospital several times for a number of tests which showed clear symptoms of bladder cancer, she was not diagnosed.

A prompt examination would have enabled the Trust to diagnose cancer in March 2015 and give chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment, as the tumour would have been smaller. This would have given her a 70% chance of surviving.

Instead she had to suffer the painful symptoms of kidney failure and she died in May 2016.

The Trust’s local investigation into the son’s complaint did not acknowledge that if they had provided the right care and treatment then his mother could have survived. The Trust did not take responsibility for these failings causing the son significant distress.

Rob Behrens, Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, said:

Doctors and nurses do a tremendous job caring for hundreds of thousands of patients day in and day out. But as this tragic case shows, it is vital that lessons are learnt by the NHS to prevent the same mistakes from happening to someone else.

'Time and time again we find NHS investigations into deaths inadequate, causing further suffering to families who have lost their loved ones.

'This case also shows the importance of complaining so that changes and improvements are made to NHS services.’

Following the Ombudsman’s investigation, the Trust wrote to the son and his siblings to acknowledge and formally apologise for the failings in his mother’s care and treatment. The Trust also outlined what changes they had made to prevent the same mistakes happening again. At the Ombudsman’s recommendation, the Trust paid £10,000 to the family to reflect the emotional impact of knowing their mother would not have died when she did had she received adequate tests and a timely diagnosis. The family donated this to the Saint Francis Hospice in Romford, who cared for their mother in the final weeks of her life.

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) provides an independent and impartial complaint handling service for complaints that have not been resolved by the NHS in England and UK government departments. We look into complaints where someone believes there has been injustice or hardship because an organisation has not acted properly or has given a poor service and not put things right. We share findings from our casework to help Parliament scrutinise public service providers and to help drive improvements in public services and complaint handling.
  2. Part of the new PHSO corporate strategy is to increase transparency and the impact of casework. This case summary forms part of an interim measure to move towards publishing the majority of our casework on our website over the next three years. Sharing insight and learning from our casework will help to improve public services.