Heartbroken family say NHS failed dying dad in his fight against cancer

Louise Simpson and family - James getting names.
Louise Simpson and family - James getting names.

A GRIEVING family who lost a relative to cancer have launched a scathing attack on the NHS, claiming it failed him at every stage of his brave fight.

Michael Fell, from Fenwick, north of Belford, died of bladder cancer at the end of July, aged 68.

His family, which includes widow Margaret and daughter Louise Simpson, from Hepscott, believe a catalogue of errors throughout his ordeal meant he endured a ‘terrible and distressing’ time.

They say Mr Fell suffered pain and anxiety which could have been prevented and have criticised the ‘incredibly poor’ facilities for Northumberland-based patients generally.

His loved ones have also told a string of horror stories, which include Mr Fell crying in agony, begging for help and saying he wanted to die because of ineffective pain relief, and how an out-of-hours doctor refused to come out and see him at home because it was too far to travel.

Letters from the NHS, which were shown to the Herald by the family, reveal that health chiefs have apologised and admitted to failings along the way.

But while the family say they are pleased with these admissions, they intend to take their complaints to the Health Service Ombudsman, believing assurances have not been given that proper processes and monitoring will be put in place to ensure other patients don’t suffer in the same way – something they say is crucial for them.

Mrs Simpson, 39, said: “The NHS failed my dad – who was a wonderful, caring man – at every stage.

“Although most of the nurses, consultants and staff were absolutely fantastic, the whole family feel that the NHS system itself, its procedures, its lack of support and communication for patients and their families, especially for people living in the Northumberland area, is poor. It failed our dad and for that, we can never forgive.”

She added: “We feel that the family has not had any kind of explanation as to how the NHS has acted accordingly and what they intend to do to make sure that no other patient suffers in the same way dad did.

“This is not about compensation. This is about highlighting the problems within the NHS and trying to improve things for other patients.”

The family have a number of grievances about how Mr Fell was treated throughout his brave battle, which they say included a misdiagnosis by his doctor and the ‘many months’ it took for him to find out he had an aggressive tumour.

They also say that, a week before he died, an out-of-hours doctor refused to come and give Mr Fell a much-needed anti-sickness injection because it was too far to travel.

Mrs Simpson added: “Out-of-hours sent two nurses when the doctor refused to come but they didn’t have any needles with them to give the injection as they said they didn’t carry them.

“They asked where the nearest hospital was but then decided to wake up a colleague who lived at Belford as she had some in her car. This caused a further delay of 40 minutes before treatment was received.”

She said that, in the days before her dad died, he suffered terrible pain while he was in Ward 3 at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital, after being transferred from a high dependency unit.

“In this day and age, nobody should have to suffer in terrible pain with cancer, but dad did,” Mrs Simpson said.

Other complaints the family have include that when Mr Fell attended a cancer clinic at Wansbeck General Hospital in September 2011, they were told the doctor he needed to see had been double-booked and was currently at a hospital in Newcastle.

The family say they were told that they had to wait a couple of hours for the doctor or make another appointment.

Mrs Simpson also said her dad had problems with waste collection bags which frequently failed and leaked.

They say the Freeman Hospital had also supplied Mr Fell with out-of-date bags.

The family also say that Mr Fell caught an infection after having an operation to fit a stent, which subsequently fell out.

The NHS has been in contact with the family.

Dr Patrick Feeney, clinical executive for Northern Doctors Urgent Care, wrote to the family earlier this month in relation to the out-of-hours doctor not coming out to see Mr Fell.

He said that the doctor ‘should have arranged a home visit’ and the guidelines for clinicians state that ‘decision-making regarding home visits is based on clinical need and not on location’.

Regarding the complaint about the lack of syringes, Dr Feeney said that this was being further investigated so he could not comment at this stage.

Another letter sent earlier this month to the family, this time from Sir Leonard Fenwick CBE, chief executive of Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, addresses the issue of pain relief during Mr Fell’s final days.

Sir Leonard wrote that it was clear that ‘appropriate attempts’ were made to control the pain, but ‘due to the rapidly changing underlying condition it is clear that the pain control was not always able to be maintained at the required level’.

He added that there were ‘delays in administering pain relief’ for which there can be ‘no excuse whatsoever’.

He wrote that a necessary pain assessment was performed and medication for increased pain was administered but it was clear that Mr Fell’s physical problems deteriorated ‘causing breakthrough pain’.

He apologised for the anxiety caused and added that the issue was being taken very seriously.

A spokeswoman for NHS North of Tyne said: “We were sorry to hear about the concerns raised about the care of this patient.

“We have been in contact with his daughter to discuss the steps she has already taken to raise her concerns through the formal complaints processes of the different NHS organisations involved.

“We will also ask those organisations for copies of their responses to the complaints so that we can consider what actions have been taken to address concerns raised and to decide if anything further needs to be done.”