Officials at cancer centre escape action

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The Independent Online
A Birmingham health authority last night announced that no disciplinary action would be taken against any doctor or hospital manager implicated in the misdiagnosis and mistreatment of 79 patients at one of the country's leading bone-cancer centres.

Two patients had unnecessary amputations and 13 suffered "serious and long-term problems" as a result of unnecessary or incomplete radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The death of one other patient may have been linked to misdiagnosis. A total of 53 patients are seeking compensation from the South Birmingham Health Authority (SBHA) expected to run into millions of pounds.

The report of an independent inquiry into the errors between 1985 and 1993 blames Carol Starkie, a consultant pathologist for an "unacceptably high level of misdiagnoses in the Bone Tumour Centre at Birmingham's Royal Orthopaedic Hospital". The inquiry's findings also single out surgeons who worked with her for failing to alert anyone to misdiagnoses occurring as early as 1989. "In 1990, the surgeons gathered cases where problems in diagnosis had occurred. Even so, they apparently failed to recognise the seriousness or level of misdiagnosis until early 1993," the report said. It suggests that they failed to take action because they feared cuts.

Hospital managers are criticised for ignoring the concerns raised by surgeons about Dr Starkie's work in numerous informal conversations, and for inadequacies in key policies and procedures which contributed to a disastrous failure of communication at the centre.

Bryan Stoten, chairman of the SBHA, said he accepted the report's conclusions, and the authority was "fully accountable". But no disciplinary actions were pending nor would any cases be referred to the General Medical Council on the grounds of professional misconduct. "Most of the actors who were party to these events since 1985 have moved on," Mr Stoten said. Dr Starkie, 57, who had multiple sclerosis for many years, took early retirement shortly after the first misdiagnosis of a malignant tumour in a young boy came to light in May 1993. The tumour was benign. Mr Stoten said that the SBHA had accepted negligence in 15 of the legal actions it faced, and there had been four interim payments so far and one final settlement.

Tessa Jowell, a Labour health spokeswoman said: "The recommendations are to be welcomed as long as they ensure that the same mistakes are not made again."