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Health chiefs refuse to give deadline for answers over Dundee cancer campaigner’s death

Les Johnson with his wedding picture.
Les Johnson with his wedding picture.

Health chiefs in Tayside are refusing to give any timescale for responding to a complaint from the bereaved husband of a Dundee cancer campaigner.

Ruth Johnson bravely laid bare the realities of her diagnosis in The Courier to help raise awareness of the disease before she passed away in November.

But her husband Les has branded the ongoing failure of NHS Tayside to respond to a litany of concerns about her care as an “insult” to her memory.

More than four months after he first submitted a complaint, health bosses say they cannot provide any timescale for when they will respond.

They blamed the “complexity” of the case and “ongoing staffing challenges across the organisation”.

Mrs Johnson – a former board member of Business Beats Cancer Dundee – was one of around 200 women in Tayside unknowingly given “lower than standard” doses of a chemotherapy drug.

Ruth Johnson.

She received a second cancer diagnosis during lockdown and her husband believes concerns about her condition were “ignored” while the disease spread.

He claims a “toxic environment” within NHS Tayside may have contributed to his wife’s early death at 51.

‘I will get justice for Ruth’

Mr Johnson said: “If they think they can kick the can down the road and I’ll just forget about it then they’re sorely mistaken.

“If it’s the last thing I do on this planet, I’ll make sure I get justice for Ruth because she tried to get answers when she was alive and she was just ignored.

“We’re now in the fourth month of 2022 and every week that passes is just adding more insult to the memory of my wife.”

Les Johnson.

He added: “I am absolutely and totally disgusted by the fact they cannot even be bothered to get back to me. They should have been pulling out all the stops.”

Why hasn’t the health board responded?

Mr Johnson first wrote to the health board in November last year and was told bosses needed to double the standard 20-day response time.

It then failed to respond in the agreed 40 days, despite a local MSP writing twice to chief executive Grant Archibald urging bosses to provide answers.

NHS Tayside Chief Executive Grant Archibald.

After we put Mr Johnson’s concerns to NHS Tayside directly, it said the delay had been triggered by him making a separate complaint about his wife’s surgeon on February 1.

The health board has still not responded to either complaint more than 60 days later and now says it cannot provide any timescale for when it will be able to do so.

‘We are unable to give a timeframe’

In an email seen by us, from the health board’s complaints team to the office of North East MSP Michael Marra, NHS Tayside said it is “awaiting further clinical information regarding this case”.

It states: “We acknowledge that Mr Johnson submitted further concerns and that you would wish for us to respond to the first set of concerns separately.

“Please be advised the Board will be responding with a single cohesive response. We are sorry that Mr Johnson will find this disappointing.

Ruth and husband Les Johnson.

“We understand we had given a timeframe which we would aim for, however given the complexity of this case due to the number of services involved, and the ongoing staffing challenges across the organisation, we are unable to give a timeframe for receipt of this response.”

MSP says delay is ‘completely unacceptable’

Mr Marra said he has been in regular contact with NHS Tayside to try to obtain answers for Mr Johnson.

Michael Marra raising the breast cancer scandal at Holyrood.

He said: “That NHS Tayside are refusing to offer us any indication as to when the investigation might be concluded is completely unacceptable.

“It leaves Ruth’s family and friends in deep uncertainty.

“I share Mr Johnson’s concerns to know that more women in Tayside should not suffer the same experiences as Ruth.”

An NHS Tayside spokeswoman said the health board’s operational medical director has now contacted Mr Johnson to “offer him a discussion regarding his complaint”.

She added: “Mr Johnson’s complaint involves many aspects of care and a large number of clinical teams are involved in contributing to individual aspects of the response.

“Mr Johnson will also be invited to discuss the complaint response when complete.”

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