The case of a cancer sufferer whose diagnosis was missed 19 times by 11 different doctors descended into recrimination yesterday as experts sought somewhere to place the blame.

Father-of-three Steven Hurley, 41, whose throat cancer is now inoperable and has begun three months of chemotherapy said he was not optimistic about beating the disease. "I have been told there is a slim chance if I am lucky" he said.

Sue James, the chief executive of Barnsley District General Hospital NHS Trust, in Leeds, where Mr Harley was seen by five doctors on five different visits, yesterday said staff had not made mistakes.

"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."

Ms James said that diagnosing cancer was not the business of a casualty department. "The A&E department is there to treat accidents and emergency situations. It's much better for people with long-term conditions to go to their GP."

However, Gordon McVie, director general of the Cancer Research Campaign, said GPs could not be blamed. "While GPs are not used to seeing a patient's mouth as often as a dentist is, for example, specialists should know better. Throat cancer is rare but this is no excuse."

Mr Hurley from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, first went to his GP about his sore throat last July. The pain spread and after repeated visits to different hospitals and doctors, last January a specialist ordered a scan - but allegedly only of the top half of Mr Hurley's head where he was complaining of the pain.

He was finally diagnosed in March, nine months after his symptoms began, at a Leeds private hospital. He said the failure to diagnose his illness sooner had left him "frustrated and disappointed", adding: "The delay has made the treatment a lot worse and more prolonged and the chances of a cure are now more remote.

"The tumour is now between 2cms and 3cms and if it was found back in September it would have been a lot smaller and more treatable and perhaps a minor operation would have taken it out."

The Government's cancer tsar Professor Mike Richards said the service to cancer patients would improve, but stressed that doctors needed to communicate with patients and "hear what they're saying".