Dad writes dying message after Royal Free missed cancer diagnosis twice

Michael Pollock,
with wife Jane

Michael Pollock, with wife Jane - Credit: Archant

A cancer victim who devoted his life to fighting for better patient care has written a damning account of his own treatment after failures at the Royal Free Hospital “cut my life short by four years”.

Michael Pollock, 69, died last month after the hospital in Hampstead twice failed to spot cancer in his lungs.

In the weeks before his death, the chairman of a medical charity wrote a heartfelt account of his battle and his shock at being offered a “meagre” £7,500 in compensation by the NHS.

He wrote: “You’d think that nothing could hurt more than being told you have terminal cancer.

“It does. Learning that not one but two chances to diagnose it have been missed, and along with them the chance of life-lengthening surgery, cuts more deeply.

“What cuts deeper still is having your precious life valued at a meagre £7,500 by the NHS.”

Mr Pollock first saw a pathologist at the Royal Free in December 2013 after coughing up blood.

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A lung biopsy missed the cancer, as did a bronchoscopy in February 2014. A subsequent independent review later showed the disease “clearly” in both.

A serious incident investigation found the Royal Free pathologist’s mistakes had led to an eight-month delay in diagnosis – in which time Mr Pollock’s Stage II lung cancer had progressed to Stage IV.

A report said if the cancer had been spotted on the first occasion – and Mr Pollock was suitable for surgery – his life could have been prolonged by four years.

The NHS argued his life was cut short by only two months, saying surgery was “unlikely”. Compensation was calculated at £7,500.

On being told he had inoperable lung cancer – after twice being told he was cancer-free – Mr Pollock wrote: “I remember the discomfiture of the consultant, his inability to look me in the eye, the way he stayed behind his computer and toyed with his keyboard.

“‘You’ve handed me a death sentence,’ I gasped. ‘Yes,’ he replied. And that was that. He was as dispassionate and as brief as possible.

“What I struggle to cope with is the lack of compassion subsequently shown to me, the dishonesty, the wasting of time I simply do not have.

“It’s ironic that I’ve devoted my life to a medical charity [Organisation for the Understanding of Cluster Headaches] fighting for better outcomes for patients.

“It hardly seems fair that they’re willing to pay just enough to cover the average cost of a funeral.”

Mr Pollock died on June 19 at his home in Hatfield, and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium.

While alive, he had refused to accept the £7,500. His family are in a legal dispute with the NHS.

Brother Phil Pollock, 66, who lives in Hampstead, told the Ham&High: “Michael devoted his life to helping other patients.

“He was already suffering the agony of dying knowing he had been the victim of mistakes. Added to that was the shocking way he was treated since.”

A spokesman for the Royal Free said: “We would like to offer our condolences to Mr Pollock’s family.

“We are sorry there was a delay in diagnosing Mr Pollock’s lung cancer. We have investigated this as a serious incident. An action plan was implemented to ensure similar incidents are avoided.”