Hospital error resulted in 17 cancer patients wrongly told they were clear

A National Health Service (NHS) hospital in Britain has admitted that due to an administrative error, 17 cancer patients were given the all-clear only to be later told that they still had cancer.

According to the NHS Hereford Hospitals Trust, samples examined between May 2006 and August 2007, from 4,654 patients needed re-examining after mistakes were discovered and the re-examination revealed possible errors by one particular histopathologist consultant, who has since been suspended.

The investigation revealed 17 patients were wrongly given the all-clear while another 14 were told they had cancer when they did not - some of these patients underwent radiotherapy.

To add to the consternation a further 40 patients were recalled and told their conditions were worse than originally thought and 62 people were told their illnesses were less serious - in total 102 patients had to be recalled and 70 patients needed a change in treatment.

Some 5,404 samples were sent for re-examination by an independent external laboratory which included biopsies, surgical specimens and cytology (cell) samples - the samples, which were wrongly analysed, included biopsies, surgical specimens and cell samples, but no blood or urine tests, swabs or X-rays.

The problems were noticed by one of the consultant's colleagues who alerted authorities when it was discovered that evidence of disease, had not been double-checked in all the samples; immediate action was immediately taken to investigate once the concerns were raised.

Cancer Research UK, says the situation was "extremely unfortunate and distressing news" but says such incidences are very rare.

The Chief Executive of the Hereford Hospitals Trust, Martin Woodford has apologised for the incident and has confirm that 17 patients were initially informed, incorrectly, that they did not have a malignancy such as cancer.

Mr Woodford says no patients identified have died as a result of a misdiagnosis but it must be ensured that this cannot happen again.

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