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Cancer patients miss vital check-ups over letters gaffe

By Victoria O'Hara

A man battling cancer has spoken of his shock after a postal error by the Belfast Trust led to him missing a vital appointment.

He was speaking after the trust issued an apology when it emerged a bundle of letters confirming appointments - understood to involve dozens of people - were posted unfranked from the Belfast City Hospital Cancer Centre to the Co Tyrone area on December 24.

The letters were then held by Royal Mail, as the postage had not been paid.

Message slips were sent to homes stating that a letter was waiting for the occupant - but a £1.53 surcharge had to be paid for its release.

The trust, which uses an external operator, last night said it could not confirm the number of cancer patients affected.

However, it is understood on Wednesday morning there were at least 12 letters in the Dungannon area that had still not been picked up by people.

Both the trust and Royal Mail have apologised and said the situation had since been addressed and those affected notified of the problem.

The cancer sufferer, who wished to remain anonymous, said he received the message slip on January 2, a Saturday, but could not get to the post office until Monday, January 5.

He opened the letter thinking it was a Christmas card, to find his medical appointment was in 40 minutes at Belfast City Hospital.

"I was shocked because it was at 2.40pm on Monday, January 5 and it said I had an appointment with my oncologist at 3.30pm - there was no way I was going to be able to make it to Belfast in time," he said.

"I had been very concerned about the results of a scan that had been taken a month ago.

"It did add a certain amount of salt into a wound that I had to pay money for a bit of paper telling you here is the appointment that you have been worrying about but you can't attend."

He immediately contacted the booking and cancellation centre and a new appointment was arranged for the following week.

"I said: 'Do you realise none of these letters had been franked?' The girl said yes, and that other people had told her the same thing. I would find it hard to believe that just Dungannon was affected."

The man said it raised the question if more robust measures needed to be in place to ensure mistakes were not repeated.

Royal Mail spokeswoman Morag Turnbull said: "A small number of underpaid items were received at Dungannon Delivery Office. These items were in envelopes with no identification that they were sent by Belfast Trust.

"We have contacted Belfast Trust to make them aware of the postage error and can confirm that the surcharge for items posted in the Dungannon area has now been paid by the trust and the letters will be delivered to customers with no charge."

A trust spokeswoman said: "We fully accept this should not have happened. The reason has now been identified and is being rectified by the external provider.

"Any patient who may have missed an appointment as a result of this delay will be offered another date as soon as possible."

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