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Wolverhampton's New Cross Hospital cancer scandal: 55 patients given chemotherapy in 'macabre experiment'

Wolverhampton | News | Published:

Fifty-five cancer patients at New Cross Hospital were given extra chemotherapy treatment they did not need in a scandal revealed by an NHS whistleblower.

  • NHS whistleblower revealed the scandal
  • 55 patients given chemotherapy they did not need
  • Patients were not told they were being treated unconventionally
  • Hospital chiefs say no harm was caused to patients

Bosses at the Wolverhampton hospital last night apologised for the 'departmental failure'.

The 55 patients were given a strong drug combination named Folfox – a treatment that can cause serious side effects.

Numbness or tingling in the fingers and toes happens to nearly everyone meaning you may have trouble with tasks such as doing up buttons.

Some people develop soreness, redness and peeling on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. And diarrhoea happens to six out of 10 people.

A sore mouth happens to 40 per cent of patients. Women may stop having periods and there is also the loss of fertility.

More than 10 in every 100 people are at risk of an infection from a drop in white blood cells, bruising more easily due to a drop in platelets, and tiredness and weakness.

Occasional side effects include sensitivity to the sun, a brown marking on the skin following the line of the vein where the chemotherapy has been injected, hair thinning, brittle, chipped and ridged nails, gritty eyes, blurred vision, or watery eyes.

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They have also taken the extraordinary step of naming the doctor who revealed the mistake – a move described as 'a disgrace' by a leading campaigner.

Bosses said permission had not been granted to use unproven treatment methods outside guidelines on bowel cancer patients between 2005 and 2009.

The cancer victims, one as old as 83, were also not told that they were being treated unconventionally, which the whistleblower called a 'macabre experiment'.

The Express & Star has chosen not to name the whistleblower, who insists the trust is still failing to acknowledge potential harm caused by the additional chemotherapy.

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He said: "It is still trying to create an illusion that nothing significant happened to these patients.

"The treatment they were given causes soreness of the mouth so severe you cannot eat, nerve damage that means you cannot do up buttons or use a knife and fork.

"Taste disappears, appetite is gone. There is hair thinning and spasms in the voicebox. And all for nothing. This was a macabre experiment."

Of the 55 patients, 29 have since died.

The extra chemotherapy was of no medical use because they had a type of cancer that needed different treatment.

Responding for New Cross, Medical Director Dr Jonathan Odum said: "If you want to step outside standard treatment you have to have a good reason and get approval.

"The doctors had good reason but we do not believe that there was the right process in place to get that approval and there should have been.

Dr Mark Churn was involved in the treatment

"The department was at fault, not just the doctors.

"The trust management and I accept that the proper processes were not in place and there is no question that we apologise 100 per cent for that."

Concerns were raised by the whistleblower who feared extra harm could be caused to the patients needlessly.

For the extra chemotherapy, a particularly strong drug combination named 'Folfox' was used by Dr Margaret King, 46, who still works at New Cross, and Dr Mark Churn, 52, now at Kidderminster Hospital.

A trust report noted that this study 'has been criticised and its results questioned'.

An external report found: "There was and is no evidence to support this approach as standard care. This strategy is not part of any practice guideline, network, national or international. There is no rationale or explanation as to why this strategy was undertaken."

Dr Odum said: "We took the concerns seriously and thoroughly investigated them.

"The whisteblower's concerns were upheld but we found no significant harm had been caused. That means the treatment did not cause death or diminish chances of survival.

"Patients received additional chemotherapy for their condition. All of them would have had standard chemotherapy. Investigations found that the survival rates were in line with what would be expected. This practice has been stopped and only standard treatment within the guidelines is given."

Dr Margaret King still works at New Cross

Dr Odum also said that he would expect doctors to tell patients if they were being treated outside normal guidelines.

He said: "If this was happening today I would fully expect the doctor to tell the patient. This was in the 2000s and that was not always the practice then. Today it should happen."

Both the NHS Trust Development Authority and the Care Quality Commission knew about the scandal for 18 months before patients were contacted this summer. Neither made public what had happened.

However, both have concluded that the trust dealt with the case properly. The trust wrote to the patients and relatives of those who died. There have been no complaints to date.

The trust named the whistleblower in a press release to the Express & Star, which also highlighted apparently unrelated disciplinary issues involving the person.

The 'outing' of the person was criticised by campaigner Dr David Drew as 'atrocious' and 'an utter disgrace'. However, Dr Odum insisted the trust 'supports whistleblowers'.

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