The Health and Disability Commissioner has recommended that a doctor apologise to a patient’s family, and that the medical centre perform an audit, after a failure refer a patient to specialist services resulted in delayed detection of breast cancer, leading to her death.

The patient went to see the doctor, complaining of a bloody discharge from her breast. The doctor performed tests and referred the patient for a scan.

The scan returned normal results and the practice nurse phoned the patient. The nurse told the patient that the results were “fine” and to come back in two months if she had any further concerns.

The woman returned several months later, this time with a solid mass in her breast. A sample of the tissue was taken and confirmed the presence of breast cancer. The patient received treatment for the cancer, but unfortunately passed away.

The Commissioner explained that bloody discharge from the breast was a “red flag” symptom and that the doctor should have referred the patient to a breast surgeon for assessment.

If the patient had been referred to the specialist, as was standard practice, the cancer may have been detected early, and treatment likely to have been more effective.

The Commissioner held that by failing to make the referral, the doctor breached the patient’s right to have services provided with reasonable care and skill.

The Commissioner recommended that the doctor apologise to the patient’s family, and the medical practice perform an audit of 10 other patients with breast cancer symptoms to ensure the appropriate treatment was provided.

It is important that medical professionals ensure that all steps are taken to provide high quality treatment to their patients. Failure to do so may result in serious consequences for both the practitioner and the patient.

If there are concerns about the standard of care that was provided to you by a medical practitioner, it is wise to speak with a professional experienced in the area.

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