Sussex NHS Trust apologizes for delays in cancer treatment before man’s death | National Health Service

A troubled NHS trust has apologized to the family of a man who died after a series of delays led him to wait four times longer for an operation than a national cancer target.

Before he died in November 2022, Ken Valder, 66, a former tax inspector and volunteer administrator at Brighton & Hove Albion football club, complained of “delays upon delays” to his treatment for esophageal cancer.

Sussex University Hospitals, the subject of a separate police investigation into allegations of surgical negligence and cover-up of dozens of deaths between 2015 and 2021, admitted that errors, failures and disagreements between surgeons contributed to delays in Valder’s treatment.

They also accepted that the case highlighted patient safety concerns that led the hospital regulator in 2022 to suspend upper gastrointestinal cancer services at the trust, which includes Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.

An independent review of the case also found that Valder’s care was “suboptimal” and that having surgery earlier “could have led to a better oncological outcome.”

Valder was referred for a gastroscopy in September 2021 after complaining of swallowing problems. A month later, a suspected tumor was identified in the esophagus.

In early November it was agreed that he needed an endoscopic ultrasound, but this did not occur until January 10, 2022 due to equipment failures, administrative errors and holidays.

A date for surgery to remove the tumor was eventually set for January 2022, but was delayed amid disagreements between doctors over whether Valder was fit to undergo the operation as he had lost weight. Then there were delays in placing a feeding tube in Valder. And despite Valder’s desire to have surgery, she was told palliative radiation therapy would be a better option.

In April 2022, Valder’s care was reviewed and he was referred to Guy’s and St Thomas’ in London for surgery which took place on 18 May, when he was deemed fit enough for the operation. According to a national target, cancer patients should start treatment within 62 days of an urgent referral. In the case of Valder the wait was 254 days.

He survived surgery and showed signs of recovery, but that same year the cancer spread to his brain and he died in November.

In July 2022, Valder wrote to the trust complaining about having been “thrown away and left to die” when he was denied a previous operation.

In August 2022, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) suspended upper gastrointestinal cancer services at the trust due to “serious safety and leadership concerns”, including poor attendance at multidisciplinary meetings, leading to a combination insufficient number of health professionals who supervised cases like Valder’s.

A month later, Dr Sarah Westwell, head of the fund’s cancer division, said in an email seen by The Guardian: “The delay in treating this patient has caused at least moderate harm. “This patient’s case should form the basis of a thematic review given the concerns about the MDM (multidisciplinary meeting) function raised by the CQC.”

A letter of apology to Valder’s widow Margaret, sent on behalf of the trust’s chief executive, Dr George Findlay, acknowledged that some of the CQC’s concerns were “relevant to the care Ken received”. He died in February this year following delays in heart surgery at the same Brighton hospital.

Before she died, she accused the trust of negligence and “egregious errors” in her husband’s care.

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Last month, an independent review was sent to his son Alex. He highlighted a series of delays and “lack of urgency at each and every step of the way” and that these contributed to the cancer progressing further. But he backed the decision to delay surgery because of concerns about Valder’s physical condition.

Alex Valder said the review did not respond to a number of complaints the family had raised.

He said: “Dad and all of us were happy to take the risk of the surgery going wrong because we didn’t like the alternative of it going away and palliative care. He said that he would rather die on the operating table than disappear and become a burden to everyone.

“We don’t want other families to have to go through this.”

Professor Katie Urch, medical director of the trust, said: “I send my deepest condolences to Mr Valder’s family and would like to apologize again for the distress caused by the delays and shortcomings in his care.

“Mr. Valder’s illness was complex and the team caring for him had to make difficult decisions about the most appropriate treatment.

“However, we take his family’s concerns very seriously and that is why we invited an independent specialist to review the care he received and ensure lessons were learnt.

“We remain committed to always improving and have made good progress in reducing wait times for care.”

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