CGH settles ex-patient's suit over breast cancer

She claimed hospital should have acted on lesion found during treatment for infection

A hospital has amicably settled a court suit by an ex-patient, who claimed that its alleged negligence had prevented earlier detection of her breast cancer.

Changi General Hospital (CGH) had denied the High Court claim, pointing out there were no convincing medical grounds that following up on an earlier test would have led to earlier intervention

The hospital yesterday issued a joint statement with the former patient, Madam Nolly Ong, 76, to say that they had resolved the case.

"CGH has promptly and satisfactorily settled Madam Ong's claim and we are able to state that the matter has been amicably and fully resolved," said the statement.

High Court suits involve claims of more than $250,000, but it does not follow that the award or settlement, if any, exceeds such a sum. And any out-of-court mutual settlement usually involves confidential terms.

According to court papers filed, Madam Ong was warded at CGH for about a week in June 2011 for a kidney bacterial infection.

As part of the process, she underwent a comprehensive medical examination to ensure that she was fit for discharge without further medical concerns. This included a radiology scan on June 29, which showed a lesion in her left breast, where further evaluation with mammography and breast ultrasound was recommended.

But this was not followed up and she learnt in September last year, when she returned to CGH, that she had terminal breast cancer.

In May, Madam Ong took CGH to court, alleging that detection three years ago could have nicked the cancer and enabled full recovery.

In court papers filed in the suit, her lawyer, Mr Raj Singh Shergill, had argued that the need for a further medical probe then was premised on the risk of possible cancer.

Left untreated and unchecked after her discharge from CGH, her condition deteriorated to the point where she lost the chance of being cured, said the court papers.

CGH, in defence papers, countered that the radiology report was an "incidental finding" as it was not relevant to her complaints of bacterial infection, for which she was warded and treated at the time.

It said the abdominal and pelvic CT scan had been ordered because of dilated bile ducts detected. Madam Ong and her daughter had been updated and Madam Ong was scheduled for an outpatient clinic follow-up two weeks after discharge.

She did not disclose any pain or symptoms in relation to her condition after her discharge. On other occasions at CGH during follow-up care unrelated to the left breast condition, she did not report any symptoms related to her left breast.

Madam Ong was also treated at CGH on several other occasions for other unrelated medical conditions.

When she was admitted in September last year, she recounted that a lump had been in her left breast for the last three to four months but it would have been noticeable earlier, according to defence papers filed by lawyer Kuah Boon Theng. CGH added that her own failure to alert and seek medical treatment on experiencing discomfort and pain earlier would have contributed to her illness.

Madam Ong, whose husband, 83, died last year, lives with daughter Evangeline Yew, 52, and her family. Yesterday, Madam Yew said: "I really appreciate our lawyer, Mr Raj Singh Shergill, who put in a lot of effort to have this matter resolved."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2015, with the headline 'CGH settles ex-patient's suit over breast cancer'. Print Edition | Subscribe