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Comment: Does previous hospital boss really think he deserves bonus?
It is difficult to describe the numbingly disorientating experience of being told you have symptoms that could be cancer.
The default human reaction to terrifying developments seems to be to snap the mind to a sort of safe mode: shock. Then, if you can, you go back to your business and attempt to stay occupied. But at some point, comprehension of the situation will hit you like a bullet.
Realisations are accompanied by the bewildering, gut-flipping sensation you get when you start to fall. You try to sedate the panic by focusing on the fact nothing has been diagnosed.
Occasionally your mind will lapse into freefall. You wonder how long you have left in the worst case scenario. Months? Weeks? Then you morbidly ruminate on question such as how to break the news to your family. How do you spend your remaining time? What are the things you need to tell the people you love before you never see them in their mortal form again? It is a slow-motion torment.
Anyone in this situation faces a wait of up to two weeks to see a specialist on the NHS. In my case, when I was referred to Watford General Hospital last year, there was some bureaucratic mess-up that meant my appointment had to be rescheduled. I was not seen until around three weeks after seeing my GP. My partner was furious about the delay. I just wanted to know either way.
When I eventually made it to the hospital, I was seen swiftly, the staff were kind and accommodating and after a 10 minute scan, I was given the all clear. It was an intense relief.
But it is not an experience that leaves you. So when I was called to Watford General Hospital last week to the press conference over the bungling of hundreds of cancer referral cases, it was hard not to think of the people behind the statistics.
The scandal relates to a bureaucratic failure where patients who missed their first appointment were not offered a second one, as is NHS regulation. Anyone who has tried to drive into West Watford and park at Watford General Hospital knows how difficult it can be to make an appointment on time.
West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust does not know how long this failure was going on. However, it has reviewed 810 cases since January 2010.
That date was chosen as doctors felt anyone whose cancer diagnosis was missed before that time would be presenting obvious symptoms by now. The trust’s chief executive, Samantha Jones, was at pains in the press conference to emphasise the problems were uncovered by a review initiated by her new management team. She has only been in the post since last February.
To the credit of the trust, it has been commendably open about the failings and an independent review is underway.
Yet questions remain for her predecessor, Jan Filochowski, who left the trust in 2012 as one of the highest earning hospital bosses on £245,000 a year.
In his last two years at the trust he was paid £70,000 in performance-related bonuses while this catastrophic failure of care to potential cancer patients was going on.
One of those questions should be whether he feels he needs to pay those bonuses back.
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