Issues over cancer treatment caused 'considerable distress', says husband
The Medical Council closed off a complaint from a woman who later died of cancer - despite errors in a report that found her oncologist had no case to answer.
The family of Eileen Kenny criticised the procedures of the country's medical watchdog in a documentary broadcast on RTE Radio 1 yesterday.
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Jim Kenny said that his wife had put up a good fight, "but it was not a fair one".
"Unfortunately, some serious issues were uncovered regarding the treatment of her cancer at that time which caused considerable distress to Eileen and my family," he said.
The moving documentary charts Eileen's struggle for answers as her complaint about her treatment navigates the system.
Eileen was diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer in 2007 - a gastrointestinal stromal tumour, or GIST. The tumour was surgically removed, Eileen was prescribed oral chemotherapy for a year and she returned to her life.
"What we didn't know at the time is that the cancer should be monitored very closely because it is classified as high risk, but we did not know that at the time," said Jim.
Eileen was scanned in 2009, and again in 2010 but there was a two-year gap before she was scanned again in 2012. In that period, Eileen's cancer returned. This was evident in a CT scan in February that year. Eileen claimed that when she returned a month later for the results, she was not told. Her oncologist later disputed this, saying she had been informed.
However, a further eight months passed before she received any targeted treatment.
Her GP told her he had received a letter from her oncologist in May 2012 to say there was a possibility her cancer had recurred. Eileen was shocked. She retrieved her files which included the scan from February 2012, noting a tumour consistent with local recurrence of cancer.
"She rang me the day she got her medical notes and she was so upset, she knew she was finished, she actually knew it," said her friend, Jackie Huston. Eileen took a civil action that later settled out of court, with an admission that she ought to have been sent for an earlier CT scan and that her treatment should have started after her CT scan in February.
In pursuit of accountability, she lodged a complaint against the oncologist with the Medical Council but her complaint did not proceed.
The council's preliminary proceedings committee (PPC) adjudicates on which complaints should go forward for a full "fitness to practise" hearing.
The oncologist this time defended his management of Eileen's case. And an independent medical expert commissioned to review the case for the Medical Council included the erroneous assumption that Eileen had received appropriate scans for her cancer. As had already been acknowledged in the settled civil action, she had not.
The family wrote to the Medical Council pointing out the error and requesting that it be brought to the attention of the appropriate committee. But the Medical Council took it no further and the complaint was closed off.
Eileen died in December 2016.
"It's still very raw and I think for us, we have never got the answers, it will always remain like that until we get answers for what happened to Eileen. I will never accept that this is a trivial affair," Jim said. "She put up a brave fight. It wasn't a fair one."
In a statement to the programme, Eileen's treating oncologist expressed his sympathy to the family and pointed out that the Medical Council had decided to take no further action.
Responding to the radio programme, the advocacy group, the Irish Patients Association called on the Health Minister, Simon Harris, to review the case, saying: "This is about trust in our institutions, a basic value of which is fairness in their dealings with all parties."