Blunders 'may have killed my son'

Herald Series: Colchester General Hospital's trust has been reported to police after staff complained that they were being "pressured or bullied" to falsify cancer patient data. Colchester General Hospital's trust has been reported to police after staff complained that they were being "pressured or bullied" to falsify cancer patient data.

The mother of a four-year-old boy who died at a hospital accused of falsifying cancer care data believes her son may be still alive had it not been for mistakes in his diagnosis and treatment.

Mackenzie Cackett died of a brain tumour in May last year after enduring a series of lengthy delays and blunders in his treatment at Colchester General Hospital.

The hospital's trust has been reported to the police after staff complained of a cover-up in which they said they were "pressured or bullied" into falsifying data relating to cancer patients.

Health watchdog the Care Quality Commission (CQC) contacted Essex Police after finding that it appeared data was altered to meet crucial targets.

Mackenzie's mother, Danielle Uren, told the Daily Mail it was "terrifying" that other cancer patients might also have suffered.

She said: "The thing is, it wasn't just Mackenzie. It is upsetting. What else will come out of the woodwork? It is scary."

Mackenzie was taken to the hospital's A&E department in September 2010 because he was vomiting and was suffering from headaches.

He had blood tests and and X-ray, but no further appointments were made. A scan of his head and spine were delayed by four weeks and in February 2011 he was diagnosed with cancer, seven months after going to his family doctor.

In September that year doctors dismissed his symptoms after they returned, but in January 2012 he was diagnosed with a secondary tumour, and died four months later, shortly after he was visited by the Duchess of Cambridge.

Miss Uren said in February: "Mackenzie is just another statistic as far as the hospital is concerned. The treatment by Colchester Hospital has caused so much upset and guilt. They have avoided blame and it's unacceptable."

The CQC said that of 61 care records examined, 22 showed that people had been "placed at risk of receiving care that was unsafe or not effective, due to delays in receiving appointments or treatment".

In some cases people did not get their treatment within the required 62 days, and in three cases delays exceeded 100 days.

Mackenzie was not one of the patients identified in the report, the Mail said, but the hospital has launched a separate investigation into his death over concerns that "administrative errors" led to delays in diagnosis and treatment.

Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust chief executive Gordon Coutts said it was "regrettable" that a 2012 internal review failed to address the issues.

"This report is awful reading. I want to apologise to patients because we have let them down by having these delays," he told BBC Radio Essex.

"Yes, there was an investigation carried out by two members of my executive team at the time - in February of 2012 - and that review was not adequate.

"It wasn't robust enough and it didn't go deep enough and that is regrettable."

North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin said those behind the delays must be held responsible, but defended Dr Coutts.

"Why have we got a health service in which people feel they are justified in falsifying records?" said the senior Tory, who chairs a Commons committee investigating public sector complaints.

"That is a terrible, terrible indictment of the culture that has grown up in the health service over a long time."

Asked if senior staff should be suspended pending the outcome of the review, he told BBC Radio 4's Today: "There has got to be accountability and people who have done wrong have got to be held accountable for their acts.

"It is very easy to go out shooting messengers in this situation. Actually Gordon Coutts is, in my view, the best hospital chief executive - and I've been MP for 20 years - I have ever come across in Colchester.

"He gets all this that there's got to be a culture change in the health service and we mustn't throw out babies with bathwater. Yes people have got to be held accountable but the whole board is in this."

The family's lawyer, Iona Meeres-Young, of Slater & Gordon, said: "We are looking into whether there were negligent delays in Mackenzie's diagnosis and failings in the treatment. Mackenzie's parents have a right to know whether appropriate treatment would have spared Mackenzie pain, allowed him more time, or given him a fighting chance of a cure.

"The renewed focus on Colchester General Hospital following the CQC report brings the Cackett family's tragedy flooding back. Mackenzie's case highlights the human costs of the hospital's serious failings.

"We welcome both consideration of a criminal investigation and the setting up of incident management team of cancer specialists by NHS England to ensure the safety of the current cancer patients."

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