Patients affected by the Tayside breast cancer crisis will take their fight for answers to the very top – after it was alleged investigators had only hazarded a “good guess” at the risk of the disease returning.
Earlier this month, Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) found oncologists at NHS Tayside had reduced the dosage of chemotherapy drugs without informing patients.
They claimed that a reduction in the dosage of FEC-T – a drug administered to prevent breast cancer recurring – would reduce the risk of harmful side-effects.
A Scottish Government review, led by senior medical officer Dr David Dunlop, concluded that the reduced dose could lead to a 1-2% rise in the risk of cancer returning.
But in a meeting with breast cancer survivor Lee Dennis, Dr Dunlop is said to have admitted that the 1-2% figure was “a good guess” at best – and that he was not given direct access to critical data on affected patients.
Dr Dunlop is reported to have told Mrs Dennis: “The risk statistic of 1-2% is nothing more than a good guess.
“There is no methodology in the compilation of (our) report because we were asked to review the HIS report.”
The Scottish Government has denied that Mr Dunlop made the comment, which Mrs Dennis claims she and her husband each noted down at the time it was spoken.
Mrs Dennis, who founded the NHS Tayside Cancer Care Support Group (CCSG) after the controversy first emerged, has stood by her record of the “unsatisfactory” answers.
She said: “In consultation with Dr Dunlop, as with many high-level meetings I’ve had so far, I have come away with an ever-increasing list of questions that have yet to be answered to any reasonable degree of satisfaction.
“There has yet to be any fully-explanatory breakdown of the assertion that the risk of possible recurrence to the women affected is in the region of 1-2%.”
The CCSG has worked quickly to get answers for the 304 patients who have been implicated in the healthcare crisis.
It emerged earlier this week that more than 100 of those 304 people may have been incorrectly informed they were given the reduced FEC-T treatment.
NHS consultants have expressed their frustration at not being able to veto the list of patients – claiming dozens of patients could have been spared unnecessary distress if they had seen the names beforehand.
Mrs Dennis last night requested a meeting with Dr Catherine Calderwood, the chief medical officer for Scotland, and is awaiting a response.
Dr Calderwood has commissioned an expert group to consider how best to engage with patients on the issue.
Mrs Dennis added: “I will continue to move indefatigably up the hierarchy to achieve full transparency on this issue.
“Should this fail, I firmly stand by my desire for a full public inquiry.”
NHS Tayside chief executive Grant Archibald laid out details of an “action plan” at a meeting of the board yesterday to address the crisis.
Mr Archibald told the meeting: “We’ve done everything we could to alleviate concerns among the patient cohort.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Dr Dunlop is clear he absolutely did not say that the recurrence estimate of 1-2 per cent was a guess.
“Dr Dunlop explained that the stated recurrence rate is based on the expert judgement of leading cancer specialists based on clinical experience built up over many years.
“It is vital that patients are actively involved in discussions about their treatment and that they feel empowered to ask questions about risks (and) benefits. It is also vital that patient voices are heard.
“The chief medical officer will of course reply in due course to any request to meet with her.”