Maghaberry prisoner’s cancer was missed despite six chances to diagnose

Maghaberry Prison doctors did not visit Mr Smyth after his cancer diagnosis
Maghaberry Prison doctors did not visit Mr Smyth after his cancer diagnosis

Six opportunities to diagnose a convicted prisoner’s cancer were missed before he fell seriously ill, the Prisoner Ombudsman has found.

In a report published on Wednesday, the ombudsman also found that Maghaberry inmate Alec Smyth, who died in December 2013, did not receive palliative care for several months, that prison GPs did not visit Mr Smyth after his diagnosis and that the doctors had prescribed medication without seeing the dying patient.

Mr Smyth had been released from prison to receive palliative care at hospital two days before his death. The report says that from 2003 onwards Mr Smyth became increasingly reclusive in prison and consistently refused offers of help – factors which became more significant in 2013 when he developed cancer.

The NI Prison Service said it will use the report to strengthen systems already in place.

Ombudsman Tom McGonigle said: “While Mr Smyth did not help his own diagnosis or treatment, his case highlights the difficulties that sick prisoners encounter since they cannot visit their GP or an A&E department in the same way as someone in the community.

“His end of life experience emphasises the need for the prison healthcare reform project to deliver better diagnosis and palliative care.”

The report’s main findings were:

• Six opportunities to diagnose Mr Smyth’s cancer were missed;

• He did not receive palliative care for several months;

• After a CT scan confirmed Mr Smyth was seriously ill, no action plan was implemented apart from a referral to hospital;

• There were no procedures in place to follow up missed medical appointments;

• Prison GPs did not visit Mr Smyth after his diagnosis and they prescribed medication without seeing a dying patient.