Kirsty Wynn

Kirsty Wynn is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

Try ACC compo for lost breasts, says govt report

Jenny Engels is taking advice. Photo / Doug Sherring
Jenny Engels is taking advice. Photo / Doug Sherring

Women left with disfiguring mastectomies after being wrongly diagnosed with breast cancer have been encouraged to push for compensation.

The Ministry of Health report into botched biopsies recommended Accident Compensation Corporation should "consider its policies in regard to lump sum compensation for patients affected by biopsy errors".

And Jenny Engels, who had a healthy breast removed after an incorrect cancer diagnosis, plans on doing just that.

"I will put in for lump sum compensation, I'd like to get something back for the 11 months I was out," Engels said. "I have also had my lymph nodes removed, so my left arm is twice the size of my right, which is a pain. There is no cure."

This year the Herald on Sunday revealed six women had been affected by errors in pathology laboratories. They either had healthy breasts removed or were told they were clear of cancer when they had the disease.

One woman had part of her jaw cut away after being wrongly diagnosed with cancer of the mouth.

Engels was now considering reconstructive surgery so she could go swimming without her prosthetic breast: "I want to feel comfortable again."

The Ministry of Health report found the errors occurred during mix-ups with specimens during the laboratory process.

It said the women suffered financially, with one losing her business and others taking extended time off work. Engels had received 80 per cent of her wages and some compensation toward travel.

Two women were disappointed no one discussed options of compensation at all and both are investigating their options. Another, along with Engels, was seeking legal advice.

The report stated: "Adequate compensation would ensure they are at least not financially worse off for undergoing treatment they did not need in the first place."

ACC chief executive Ralph Stewart said the cases were being considered.

"ACC undertakes to ensure the women receive the full benefit of all entitlements available to them under the act."

The report recommended better reporting of errors and more empathy when dealing with patients.

Other recommendations included:

Only one specimen should be handled at a time;

Specimens of the same tissue type should not be handled sequentially;

Robust training and supervision of new staff should be a priority;

Double-checking of specimens and labels by staff at identified critical control points.

Biopsy Solutions pathologist Tony Bierre said the report was good but the recommendations should already be standard practice.

"I am disappointed. I would be horrified to see someone working on two specimens at the same time - that is when errors occur."

- Herald on Sunday

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