850 mistakenly told ‘you might have cancer’

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An NHS Trust has apologised after wrongly telling 850 patients that they might have cancer.

The East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, which covers Hastings, Eastbourne and Rother, sent out an incorrect information leaflet back in March.

The leaflet indicated that the recipient had been referred to hospital for an urgent appointment as their symptoms might indicate cancer.

But last week the Trust wrote to all 850 patients to apologise for the mistake.

The Trust has blamed the blunder on an administration error which meant the leaflet was incorrectly included with letters to the patients.

A 31-year-old woman from Bexhill, who was awaiting a gynaecology outpatient’s appointment, was one of those who received the incorrect patient information leaflet.

The patient, who did not wish to be identified, said: “It was a bit of a shock.

“I had emergency surgery at Christmas and in subsequent correspondence with the hospital, the possibility of cancer had never been mentioned.

“So it felt quite unsettling to receive the leaflet.”

She added: “I’ve received such great care from the Conquest staff, it’s shame that this has happened.”

In the letter sent out to patients last week, the Trust said it was taking a number of steps to ensure the incident would never be repeated.

These include improved staff training, checking existing guidance on which leaflets are attached to which patient appointment letters and increasing meetings with the supplier to provide greater quality assurance.

Liz Fellows, assistant director of operations at the Trust, said: “We have written and apologised to all those who were incorrectly sent the wrong patient information leaflet with their hospital appointment letter.

“It was an administrative error and we would again apologise for any unnecessary anxiety this error may have caused.

“Due to the large number of appointment letters we send out we, in common with a number of other Trusts, use an external printing company to print and distribute our appointment letters.

“Each letter is coded to indicate any supplementary information that needs to accompany the letter.

“Unfortunately for a short period in March the printing company inadvertently miscoded approximately 850 letters resulting in a “two week information leaflet” being inserted with an appointment letter.

“When this error became apparent it was stopped immediately and letters of apology were sent to those who had received the incorrect leaflet.”