Hospital chiefs say they have let down cancer patients after discovering an administrative error which meant care was delayed and one sufferer may have even died as a result.
Two managers have been suspended, a review of patients is already under way and an independent external investigation has been launched.
West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust chief executive Samantha Jones and her team discovered that patients with suspected cancer who missed their initial urgent outpatient appointment were not offered a second appointment in line with NHS rules but were instead discharged.
Ms Jones said: “Our trust systems have failed and we have failed our patients in the delivery of cancer care. It is an issue that we are taking extremely seriously.”
The error affected 810 people between January 2010 and November 2013.
Of those, 686 have been told this week that there are no clinical concerns about their care and 121 people have been informed that their case is still being reviewed.
Hospital bosses have also met the family of a patient who has since died and it is the trust’s clinical view that a delay in seeing the person may have contributed to their death.
Another patient whose diagnosis was delayed due to the proper process not being followed has also been met. However, their cancer was found to still be at the earliest stage.
The trust is also in the process of contacting the family of another person who has since died. This patient was already at an advanced stage of their illness when the initial referral was made.
Of the 121 cases still being looked into, it is possible that other patients have also since passed away.
Ms Jones said: “My reaction is one of complete apology for the patients we have let down - that has absolutely been mine and the team’s focus.
“We have concentrated on putting right the systems that we should have in place and we have done that, and we are supporting the staff who have been through a difficult time and are being trained.”
All patients affected will have been contacted in writing by the trust but those unsure should make an appointment to see their GP or call the information line on 01923 217100.