18 Sep 2017

Southern DHB's life-shortening failure

From Checkpoint, 5:08 pm on 18 September 2017

Several men may have had their lives shortened by “unreasonable” delays in prostate cancer treatment at Dunedin Hospital – and many more will be in the same position, the Southern DHB says.

Southern District Health Board chief medical officer Nigel Millar told Checkpoint with John Campbell that more than six men may have had their life expectancy shortened due to delays in cancer treatment.

“I can’t give you a definite figure, but that’s my fear,” he said.

Dunedin man Stephen Hoffman is one of those men. He was referred for urgent treatment at Dunedin Hospital last September. He had an enlarged prostate and suspected cancer. He should have been treated within three weeks, but he did not see a specialist until February and did not have surgery until July.

In that time his cancer spread to his rectum and close to his bladder. He has been told he has a life expectancy of just five years.

DHB chief executive Chris Fleming confirmed Mr Hoffman was one of at least six men whose cancer had spread while waiting for treatment. Of the 100 urgent biopsies the DHB is committed to, Mr Fleming said 25 percent of those will have very poor prognoses.

Mr Millar told Checkpoint with John Campbell that he was remorseful for the treatment Mr Hoffman received.

“I think his care has been unreasonably delayed in our system which I think is really poor and something which we deeply regret,” he said.

“From my perspective it stops with the district health board and me. I’m the chief medical officer. So I am responsible for that.”

He would resign if he thought it would make a difference.

“The fact that it’s been delayed so long is unacceptable and we sincerely regret. Sadly, I don’t know what to do to turn that back.

“It really saddens me and makes me feel sick that I am part of the care of a man who has ended up in this situation.”

When asked if it was a “life-shortening failure”, Mr Millar said “yes”.

“We are deeply regretful and sorry for the fact they find themselves in this position. And it is our responsibility to do the best we can to correct this. And it’s a whole set of sad of circumstances that the public health system should have this sort of failure in its provision of service.”

Mr Hoffman has not received an apology and does not care too much for one – he just wanted to ensure it did not happen to anyone else.

“At the end of the day, I’m really pissed off they didn’t see me sooner. It’s aggressive cancer I’ve got inside me. If I had been seen in the correct amount of time, within six weeks, by the specialist initially, they would have been able to put the flags up and get into me and get it done. But it never happened. It just should have been dealt with earlier, right at the start.”

He said he tried not to be angry about his situation as he did not want it to affect his health further.

“The nurses and doctors in that hospital are bloody great, they’ve got nothing to work with, they need more funding. That’s what it’s about – I just don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”