Patient dies after waiting a year for NHS treatment

A patient with adult congenital heart disease (ACHD) died after waiting for almost 12 months for vital heart surgery.

The man, from Neath Port Talbot in Wales, died in March 2013 shortly before the life-saving operation was due. The Public Services Ombudsman said that the length of time the man had been forced to wait was "completely unacceptable."

Referral to Treatment (RTT) is the period of time from referral by GP to hospital for treatment in the NHS in Wales. The RTT includes time spent waiting for hospital appointments, tests, scans and other procedures that may be required before treatment. The Welsh Government RTT target is 26 weeks.

The watchdog found that the man had waited nearly twice the recommended time for surgery, and that the health board had failed to warn his family of the vital symptoms to be aware of that may indicate his condition was deteriorating, and that he required urgent medical attention. Collectively, the delays were likely to amount to serious clinical negligence.

Congenital heart disease treatment

Treatment for congenital heart disease depends on the specific defect each patient has.

Severe heart defects usually require surgery and long-term heart monitoring. Patients with congenital heart disease are at higher risk of developing a range of other problems, such as:

  • Respiratory tract infections
  • Endocarditis
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Heart rhythm problems
  • Sudden cardiac death

The investigation

The investigation found that there was a lack of urgency for treating patients with ACHD within the Welsh health board as a whole, and that there had been a number of previous near misses with patients waiting for the same type of heart surgery before.

The Ombudsman said: "On the balance of probabilities, had [the patient] received treatment earlier, it would have saved his life."

The Abertawe Bro Morgannwg (AMBU) health board said that several important changes had been implemented over the three years since the man's death, and that they had acted on the recommendations from the ombudsman to address waiting times for ACHD patients.

"We fully accept the recommendations made by the ombudsman, and can give assurances that several important changes have been put in place over the last three years.

"The management and processes supporting these patients have now been considerably tightened, and access to pre-surgical tests within Wales much improved."

According to Welsh government statistics, surgery waiting times have improved.

The most recent figures show that a total of 432,304 patients were awaiting the start of their treatment. Of these, 84% had been waiting for less than 26 weeks, and almost 94% had been waiting for less than 36 weeks from the date their referral letter was received in hospital.

Claiming for negligent hospital treatment

If you or a loved one has suffered as a result of negligent hospital treatment, you may be entitled to claim financial compensation. Contact a medical negligence specialist solicitor for more information or to discuss your options in more detail.