Singapore

Diagnosis delay had little impact on cancer patient's outcome: CGH

Hospital argues its negligence did not cause cancer patient's death, any damages would be 'very limited'

A delay in the diagnosis of a lung cancer patient at Changi General Hospital (CGH) had little impact on the outcome of her condition and the effectiveness of the treatment she received, said lawyers for the hospital.

The argument was made at a hearing that started in the High Court yesterday to assess the damages to be paid to Ms Noor Azlin Abdul Rahman's family.

She died on April 1 last year, aged 39, after winning a court battle against CGH. Her brother, as executor of her estate, is continuing her fight to claim about $6.75 million in damages.

The hospital contended in its opening statement that any damages would be "very limited". It argued its negligence did not cause the death and the course of her disease would have remained the same even if she was diagnosed a few months earlier.

Ms Azlin visited CGH several times between October 2007 and December 2011 for chest pains and lung-related issues before she was diagnosed with lung cancer in February 2012.

After she underwent surgery to remove part of her right lung in March 2012, she was found to be suffering from Stage 2A lung cancer. She had chemotherapy but had a relapse in August 2014.

A biopsy showed the cancer had progressed to Stage 4.

In January 2015, she sued CGH and three doctors for the delay in diagnosis.

The High Court dismissed her case in February 2018. A year later, the Court of Appeal found CGH negligent for failing to put in place a system for proper follow-up of radiological results and patient management.

Though radiological reports in April 2010 and July 2011 recommended a follow-up, none was carried out on Ms Azlin.

The apex court found she suffered from Stage 1 lung cancer in July 2011, and if not for the negligence, she would have been properly diagnosed and treated.

It sent the case back to the High Court for assessment of damages, and urged the parties to consider a settlement on the quantum to help Ms Azlin achieve a sense of closure and allow her to focus on recovering.

Five weeks later, Ms Azlin lost her battle with the disease.

Yesterday, her lawyer, Mr Vijay Kumar Rai, said that an attempt to contact CGH's lawyers on the possibility of a settlement had been "rebuffed".

He cited the apex court's findings that but for CGH's failure to diagnose her in July 2011, part of her lung would have been surgically removed before March 2012 and it was unlikely the cancer would have progressed.

But CGH's lawyer, Senior Counsel Kuah Boon Theng, argued the actual period of delay was not from July 2011 to February 2012, but a shorter period from August to December 2011.

This four-month delay, she argued, did not have a material impact on the prognosis, treatment efficacy or risk of relapse.

COURT & CRIME