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The BBC's Karen Allen
"The same appalling mistakes are being made time and time again"
 real 56k

John Macdonald, Queens Medical Centre
"We wish to express our most sincere apologies"
 real 28k

Kate Law, Cancer Research campaign
"When injected into the spine it actually destroys the neurons"
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Wednesday, 24 January, 2001, 08:37 GMT
Inquiry into cancer drug tragedy
Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham
The error occurred at Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham
The parents of a young cancer patient facing a slow death following a medical blunder have welcomed a hospital inquiry into the tragedy.

The 18-year-old, who has not been named, is expected to die after the powerful chemotherapy drug vincristine - part of his treatment for leukaemia - was injected into his spine instead of a vein.

It was revealed on Wednesday that exactly the same mistake has been made in UK hospitals on 13 occasions over the last 15 years.

A Department of Health spokesman described the incident as "catastrophic" and said they were monitoring the inquiry launched by the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham.

Two doctors have already been suspended following the mistake.

Sadly, in these cases, death is inevitable

Dr Kate Law, Cancer Research Campaign

Vincristine is highly toxic, and can only be tolerated if injected slowly into a vein - if delivered into the spine, it causes devastating, and irreparable, nerve damage.

However, despite each packet and phial being clearly marked to warn staff of the potential danger, this is only the latest in a series of similar mistakes over the past decade.

The teenage patient was having chemotherapy treatment for leukaemia when the incident happened.

No cure

Dr Kate Law, from the Cancer Research Campaign, said: "Sadly, in these cases, death is inevitable.

"The drug just destroys the nerves and it causes a massive inflammatory reaction."

However, she said, it may not ultimately prove fatal for several days, or even weeks.

A solicitor acting for the parents of the 18-year-old said that they wished to be left alone to be with their son.

But they welcomed the hospital's decision to launch an inquiry.

A hospital spokesman confirmed the nature of the blunder, and said an apology had already been given to the parents of the boy, who remains in intensive care.

It is unspeakable that this should happen in this day and age

Professor Gordon McVie

The hospital spokesman said: "We wish to express our most sincere apologies to the patient and their family for this serious mistake.

"Immediate action was taken and the patient is now in intensive care.

"The hospital has strict protocols and procedures in place for the administration of drugs to patients. A full inquiry has been started to discover what went wrong."

Professor Gordon McVie, also from the Cancer Research Campaign, said today: "It is unspeakable that this should happen in this day and age."

It is common practice for chemotherapy drugs, including vincristine, to be given by trained nurses or junior doctors.

Although hospitals have strict guidelines reinforcing the need for care when giving powerful chemotherapies, often the drugs are kept side by side in drug fridges.

In chemotherapy regimens for leukaemia, it is often given alongside methotrexate, which is meant to be given into the spine.

This, say experts, is how the mistake comes to be made so often.

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