BREAST cancer screening blunders at Accrington Victoria Hospital could lead to claims for several million pounds in damages, according to a lawyer specialising in clinical negligence cases.
Last month, East Lancashire Hospitals Trust revealed that 14 women given the all-clear have been told they have invasive breast cancer, after reviewing 355 mammograms by one radiologist dating back to 2005.
Four more women were told they have early stage breast cancer and are also being treated.
Law firm Moore Blatch Resolve dealt with a case in south west England when a group of women underwent mastectomies after being wrongly diagnosed with breast cancer.
Those women received £35,000 to £45,000 each for pain, injury and suffering, and the fact they had only one breast left.
And solicitor Victoria Hyden has speculated that in the Accrington case damages could reach £1m should a high earning woman die.
"In this case, I think there are 18 women who were told they didn’t have breast cancer and it was months later that they were told, so there has been a delay in treatments," she said.
"If that led on to death then, despite the best treatment now, you will have bereavement and fatal accident damages, which is £11,000. Injury and suffering – which could depend on how long someone lives – is £30,000.
"But the biggest claim will be for any loss of future earnings if the woman was working and the husband and children were dependent on that income."
She added: "If you have got a high earner and the woman died prematurely you will get a proportion of the lost earnings until 65. You will get an award for loss of services if the woman takes care of the children and picks them up from school."
Further claims for up to £15,000 for psychological scarring could be made, while compensation for mastectomies may also be substantial.
She added: "Had treatment started earlier a woman might have only had to undergo a lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy, which is far more invasive. You would have to prove that had the woman got treatment, she would have gone on and had a good prognosis . Then the damages are likely to be fairly considerable.
"In certain cases where there’s a probability of a serious deterioration you can go for a provisional award. If they subsequently die, the estate can then go back to the trust. And if damages are settled the health trust has to pick up the law firm's costs as well, which could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds."
She added: "It’s clear to me that the trust failed in its risk management procedures. They should have picked it up sooner. It will be a massive blow for them if there's any significantly high earners affected. Usually their budgets are fairly high for clinical negligence claims, but it's going to make a huge dent."
East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust has apologised for any distress and anxiety caused by the mistakes.
Medical director Rineka Scrahm said: "If any women or families involved wish to seek compensation we would work with them and their legal representatives to ensure this is progressed through the appropriate channels. It is unfortunately not possible to state with certainty whether the delay in treatment has affected the prognosis other than to state that early stage breast cancers have a good prognosis."
The trust has not made new chief executive Diane Whittingham available for an interview over the past week.
A spokesperson said: "She is a very busy lady."
Any women who remain concerned should contact the helpline on 732093, between 7am to 10pm or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org