Belfast Telegraph

Trust admits cancer X-ray blunder... but can’t read the signature of who’s to blame

By Lisa Smyth

The son of a man given six months to live after doctors failed to notice he had lung cancer has said other patients’ lives may be at risk.

The Northern Health & Social Care Trust has come under fire after it emerged an X-ray showing the man had lung cancer was not acted upon for five months. It has also admitted it has no idea who made the mistake — as the signature of the doctor who examined the X-ray is illegible.

The case — which involves a series of startling errors — has raised serious questions over patient safety and the trust’s handling of the blunder.

Deputy chair of the Stormont health committee Jim Wells said: “We have no idea who this doctor is, or where they are working. There could be more people out there who have an undiagnosed condition. It is unacceptable that the trust has not been able to trace who made this error.”

Smyth Kelso (81) was admitted to the A&E at Causeway Hospital in Coleraine in July last year after suffering a stroke.

He underwent a series of tests that day — including a chest X-ray — before he was admitted to a ward, but was discharged to live with his son Trevor at his home in Ballycastle 12 days later.

“He was supposed to have an operation to remove a polyp from his nose that July but then that was postponed for five or six months after he had his stroke,” Mr Kelso explained.

“The doctor who was doing that operation went through his notes and saw the X-ray and asked me what they were doing to treat the lesion on my father’s lung.

“I had no idea what he was talking about. That was last December. He was sent for a CT scan in March and that is when all hell broke loose, really.

“They told us he had six to nine months to live. The cancer was in his glands and had spread so much.”

Mr Kelso said the family feels let down by the failure.

“The chief executive of the trust has said he has only found out about this, but I made a complaint to the trust months ago, which makes the whole case even more curious.”

A spokeswoman from the trust apologised. “The trust acknowledges this has been an extremely difficult time for the family and apologises unreservedly for the distress caused.”

The trust will undertake a full review of the case.


When a patient has a chest X-ray all information relating to this, including who ordered and examined the test, should be recorded in the medical notes. The X-ray is normally examined by the doctor who ordered it and should also be examined by a radiographer.

It is not known whether this happened in this case and the trust has been unable to say whether it knows who ordered the X-ray.

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