Small private hospitals and complex cancer treatments don’t always mix

A middle aged women was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had surgery, then was given six months of chemotherapy in a small hospital. Seven years later the cancer returned. This time she was told surgery was not an option because the cancer was impossible to surgically remove. She was put straight back on to chemotherapy. This treatment continued unabated for nine months.

At first the tumour shrank, then it grew back again. Her health deteriorated under the pressure of continuous chemotherapy treatments. Despite weight loss, being continuously unwell and very distressed, she was never referred to another doctor for a second opinion. Her oncologist just told her that “chemotherapy was a hit and miss affair” and that she should continue on with his treatment. There were no health assessments at this small clinic. There was no access to qualified oncology nursing staff. The only people patients saw were two oncologists and a few enrolled nurses who also did secretarial duties and minor wound care.

The woman’s ill health continued. She lost more and more weight, her teeth decayed and she was unable to work. Her friends all urged her to see a second opinion. Finally she agreed, and against her private oncologist’s wishes, saw a surgeon. The surgeon was astonished that she had waited so long to get a second opinion. He was easily able to surgically remove the tumour. Although the woman was relieved that the cancer had been removed, her private oncologist was angry that she had disobeyed his orders. He refused to co-operate with the new surgeon. He refused to discuss her case or share her notes.

The woman was caught between the two doctors and didn’t know what to do. Her friends began to question the professionalism of her private oncologist. They looked up her type of chemotherapy on the internet, and found out it causing heart damage when given in large doses over a person’s lifetime. Further investigations revealed that in public hospitals, strict protocols are set to limit the accumulative dose of this drug, to minimise risk of heart damage.

The entire private clinic’s management of this woman, for the past seven years was reviewed by her friends. They questioned the full body CT scans and nuclear med bone scans she had been given from the day she first went to this small clinic.
The woman began to realised that despite all the money she had paid out over the years for her treatment she had actually received a low quality of care. The woman’s friends found her a large hospital& where there was a well established cancer centre, a multi-disciplinary approach, computerised drug charts and qualified nurses.

The woman began to developed heart problems, causing her to be short of breath. She gave up work. The cancer eventually spread around her body. But she was grateful to have found professional and properly qualified doctors and nurses. Her final words to her friends, was that she was grateful to have been transferred to a professional and caring cancer unit. She died in a palliative care unit, two years after being persuaded to leave the small, substandard and expensive clinic.

© Wikihospitals 2014