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Sheffield man died after hospital missed cancer, inquest hears

A man died after hospital staff missed "multiple chances" to detect his cancer, an inquest has heard.

Paul Johnson's illness went undiagnosed for two years after a scan at Sheffield's Northern General Hospital first detected a tumour on his lung.

A coroner found neglect by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, had contributed to his death.

Mr Johnson, a plasterer with a history of alcohol-related health problems, was admitted to the hospital's A&E department in November 2020 with abdominal pain and jaundice.

He underwent a CT scan, which identified a lump on his lung, but an "orange alert", which is used to flag unexpected and urgent findings, was not attached to his results by radiologists and no follow-up was arranged.

Mr Johnson was discharged from the hospital in December 2020. His cancer was not diagnosed until further tests were carried out at a different hospital in November 2022, by which time it had spread to his brain and was incurable. He died at Northern General Hospital's palliative care unit on 18 January 2023.

Mr Johnson's family said his death had "left a huge void" and "life will never be the same for us".

In a statement, his mother and father Janet and Mac Johnson, sister Kay Hemming and brother-in-law Christopher Hemming said: "To us, it always felt like medical professionals believed Paul wasn't worth treating and that his health issues were entirely his fault due to how he suffered with alcohol problems.

"It breaks our heart knowing that in the lead-up to his death, Paul felt completely worthless."

Mr Johnson had a medical history of alcoholic hepatitis, decompensated alcohol liver disease, chronic pancreatitis, and Type 1 diabetes, the inquest heard.

A liver specialist at the NHS trust who looked at his CT scan during a telephone consultation in February 2021 did not comment on the tumour or investigate it further, lawyers representing his family said.

The cancer was finally diagnosed after Mr Johnson was admitted to Sheffield's Royal Hallamshire Hospital in November 2022 to investigate left-sided weakness. He was transferred to the palliative care unit just a month after his diagnosis and died weeks later.

At an inquest at Sheffield's Medico-Legal Centre on Wednesday, assistant coroner Carl Fitch recorded a narrative conclusion. He said medical neglect had contributed to Mr Johnson's death and earlier intervention could have saved or prolonged his life.

Mr Johnson's family said it was "extremely difficult re-living Paul's final two years" and hearing there were "multiple chances where his lung cancer could have been diagnosed and treated, which could have extended his time with us."

The trust said it had conducted a "full review" of what happened and made changes to its processes and staff training to limit the chances of similar incidents.

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust medical director, Dr Jennifer Hill, said: "I realise that an apology will never be enough to alleviate the loss that Mr Johnson's family has experienced.

"However we acknowledge that, while our staff work hard to provide good care and thorough investigations to all our patients, opportunities were missed in detecting Mr Johnson's cancer earlier and for that we are extremely sorry."