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The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"A thirteenth doctor finally diagnosed his cancer"
 real 28k

Steven Harley
"Diagnosis of cancer in its early stages simply is not good enough"
 real 28k

Director of Barnsley Hospital Chris Ruddleston
""It's inappropriate for the hospital emergency department to issue general practitioner advice"
 real 28k

New York Cancer Specialist Zvi Fuks
"There is a shortage of both equipment and personnel"
 real 28k

Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 20:33 GMT 21:33 UK
'No apology' to throat cancer man
Steve Harley and family
Steve Harley's cancer was missed by doctors
A hospital where doctors failed to spot a man's oral cancer five times has said staff made no mistakes and had nothing to apologise for.

Cancer: the facts
Father-of-three Steve Harley's illness was not found in 19 visits to 12 different doctors, and now the tumour is too large to be operated on.

However, five of those visits were to an accident and emergency unit at Barnsley District General Hospital - which is not geared to diagnosing cancers.

And the chief executive of the hospital trust, Sue James, has defended her staff, saying they did exactly the right thing by advising Mr Harley to go back to his GP.

Mr Harley - who is considering legal action - is embarking on an intensive course of radiotherapy to reduce the tumour, but could face losing his tongue, larynx and voice box.

We haven't made any mistakes and there's nothing for us to apologise for

Sue James
Ms James said: "Senior doctors have looked at his notes very carefully. He was very thoroughly examined and the doctors did a whole range of tests. They couldn't find any reason for the pain he'd got.

"The A&E department is there to treat accident and emergency situations. It's much better for people with long-term conditions to be referred to their GP.

"What our doctors did each time was to give him painkillers and strongly advised him to talk to his GP, which I believe he did."

She added: "We did everything we needed to do. We haven't made any mistakes and there's nothing for us to apologise for."

'Live your life'

Mr Harley, 41, first developed throat pains last July and visited his GP, who sent him home with antibiotics.

But the pain persisted and he went on to see four GPs, five hospital doctors and three private specialists.

Professor Mike Richards
Professor Mike Richards admitted reform was needed
He told the BBC one of the doctors at Barnsley District General Hospital even told him: "If I was your brother, I would tell you to go home and live your life."

The businessman, who now has trouble speaking, was eventually diagnosed by a specialist at a Leeds private hospital eight months after his symptoms began.

He said he was "not particularly optimistic" about beating the cancer, adding: "I have been told there's a slim chance if I'm lucky.

Warning on health failings

Mr Harley's MP, Eric Illsley, said his client's case highlighted serious failings in health provision in England.

We certainly need to invest more in communication skills

Professor Mike Richards
Mr Illsley told the House of Commons: "This was a man with private medical insurance. I wonder what it would have been like for anyone who was a NHS patient in these circumstances.

"I am becoming a little tired of standing in this chamber complaining about poor health treatment that my constituents receive."

Professor Mike Richards, the newly-appointed "cancer tsar", said while he could not guarantee cases like Mr Harley's would not happen in future, the service overall would improve.

He said: "We certainly need to invest more in communication skills because we know from patients that all too often they weren't adequately heard by doctors and the way they were treated was not as good as it should have been."

Approximately 3,400 people a year in the UK are diagnosed with oral cancer. Half of these are alive five years after diagnosis.

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28 Feb 00 | Scotland
Mouth cancer awareness bid
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