Settlement achieved for bereaved family following failure to diagnose and treat patient’s prostate cancer

Case Studies

Settlement achieved for bereaved family following failure to diagnose and treat patient’s prostate cancer

We have secured a considerable financial settlement for our client who pursued a claim on behalf of her late husband, after a negligent delay in diagnosing his prostate cancer caused his premature death.

In October 2017, our client’s husband noticed some blood in his urine. He visited his GP who performed a PSA blood test. This test gave a reading of 5.1, which is abnormal for a man in his mid-50s. His GP referred him to East Surrey Hospital for suspected prostate cancer. He was referred urgently, meaning he should have been seen within two weeks.

Two weeks later, he attended East Surrey Hospital’s urology clinic. He underwent a number of tests, most of which were normal, but a cystoscopy identified a ‘red patch’ within the bladder. The doctors at the hospital arranged an MRI scan, which was performed one week later. The radiologist who reported the MRI scan, which included images of the prostate, noted that there was a small area of the prostate that appeared cancerous/malignant. He also drew a diagram indicating the presence of the lesion that he had seen, and filed that diagram with his report.

Afterwards, this case was discussed in an MDT meeting (usually made up of specialist doctors, such as urology and cancer specialists). The note of that meeting confirms that the MRI report was considered, but that the doctors erroneously concluded there was no area of the prostate to target with treatment. 

Our client’s husband was subsequently reassured that there was no malignant cause for his symptoms and elevated PSA, and discharged from the urology service.

Ten months later, he underwent a follow-up PSA test at his GP practice. The result showed a reading of 73, which is significantly elevated. His GP referred him urgently to East Surrey Hospital, where another MRI was performed. This scan confirmed the presence of prostate cancer, but also that the cancer had spread to his bones. He was advised that he had an incurable cancer.

Hormone therapy treatment began and in 2019 he underwent a course of chemotherapy. Progression of his cancer was controlled while he received treatment, but it began to spread again after his treatment had finished. After a period of stability for approximately six months, from February 2020 his condition deteriorated. In early May 2020 he was admitted to East Surrey Hospital, where he died two days later.

We originally accepted instructions to act on behalf of the deceased before he passed away. He had been informed in January 2019 that the hospital had made a mistake and that his prostate cancer should have been diagnosed in November 2017 (12 months earlier than it was, in fact, diagnosed).

After obtaining and reviewing the deceased’s medical records, we instructed an expert urologist who agreed that the failure to appreciate the signs of malignancy on the 2017 MRI amounted to a breach of duty in the deceased’s care.

The expert went on to provide his opinion that had the prostate cancer been diagnosed and treated in 2017, so long as there was no metastatic disease present, the deceased would have been cured of his cancer, on the balance of probabilities.

Following receipt of that expert’s evidence, we instructed an expert radiologist. This expert reviewed the deceased’s imaging and was of the opinion that, in fact, there were signs that the cancer had already spread to the deceased’s bones in November 2017.

Following receipt of this expert’s evidence, we obtained further evidence from the expert urologist, who was of the opinion that the deceased would never have survived his cancer, even if he had been diagnosed 12 months earlier. The expert felt that the deceased would probably have survived longer than he did if he had received earlier treatment, but felt unable to say how much longer he would likely have survived.

Unfortunately, while we were considering obtaining further evidence from an expert oncologist, we were informed by our client that her husband had passed away because of his cancer.

There was an inquest into his death, at which we represented our client. The coroner, after listening to the evidence, concluded that neglect in his care contributed to the deceased’s death. Neglect is an uncommon conclusion from a coroner, and is only usually given if there is sufficient evidence of a gross failure by the trust to provide the patient with basic medical attention, and this failure contributed, more than minimally, to the patient’s death.

Following the inquest, the trust wrote to our client and apologised for the failures in the deceased’s care. At the same time, in a separate letter, a formal admission of breach of duty was made, alongside an initial offer to settle the claim for £20,000.

Our client took on the responsibility for the claim, which was now on behalf of the deceased and his surviving dependants, which included our client and her two young children.

We obtained further evidence from an expert oncologist, who was of the opinion that had it not been for the negligence, the deceased would have survived for five years from when his cancer should have been diagnosed.

Taking account of that evidence, we then set about valuing the claim. We were able to include on our client’s behalf an award for her bereavement, which is a statutory award of £15,120. We also included the costs of the deceased’s funeral, and a claim for the loss to our client and the children of the deceased’s love and affection.

We additionally obtained details of both the deceased’s and our client’s earnings so that we could calculate the financial dependency that she had lost because of his premature death, on the basis that she partly relied on his income. Other losses that were claimed included costs that our client had had to incur because her husband was no longer alive to perform tasks and chores himself (for example, the cost of redecorating).

As well as a claim for the financial loss that our client had sustained because of the deceased’s premature death, we also calculated the value of the services that the deceased would have provided to our client and the children, but which they had lost because of his premature death. 

Overall, the claim had a maximum value of £173,500.

The defendant’s evidence, on the other hand, was that the deceased would have survived only four years had he been diagnosed and treated when he should have been. As such, the defendant argued that not all of the losses that were claimed were recoverable.

We entered into negotiations with the defendant and after a number of offers by each party, an agreement was made to settle the claim in full for £146,500.

Because part of the settlement fund was payable to the deceased’s young children, we had to attend a hearing before the court for the settlement to be approved. This happened without issue.

This was a tragic case in which an easily avoidable mistake caused our client and her children to suffer the premature loss of her husband/their father by three years. It is difficult to quantify the impact that this has on a family and, sadly, the law only allows solicitors to recover a limited amount for that emotional loss.

However, we were able to achieve a significant financial sum for our client, and her children. While this will not bring the deceased back for the years which he prematurely lost, it will help support each member of the family as they come to terms with his death.

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Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with registered number OC311575 and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority under number 419867.

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP