'Cruel' Chinese clinic took 3 months to tell woman she had cancer

A county clinic in eastern China that took three months to tell a patient she had cancer has been denounced as cruel and uncaring by state media.

As a result of the delay, her cervical cancer metastasised and spread to her bloodstream which meant she had to undergo a hysterectomy and chemotherapy.

The clinic in Shuanggang, a town in Jiangsu province, said it only had one staff member handling patients' results, but its failure to apologise and insistence that the error was only a "minor flaw in our work" prompted widespread criticism.

Zhang Lijuang, who is in her early thirties, had undergone breast and cervical cancer screening tests organised by the Shuanggang town clinic in May last year.

The clinic received the positive result from her smear test the next month, but she was only notified she had cancer in September, China News Service reported on Tuesday.

Shuanggang clinic explained that more than a thousand women had tests each year but only one staff member was responsible for handling the results.

"This is a minor flaw in our work," Xiangshui county health commission director Wu Zhizhong, who oversees Shuanggang county clinic, told the portal.

He did not apologise but promised to improve the process in the future.

The response was met with widespread condemnation, including from party mouthpiece People's Daily.

"In a race against death, any man-made obstacles are cruel. With testing results delayed, how can patients discover, diagnose and treat illnesses early?" the newspaper said via its Weibo account on Friday.

"Please carry out tangible actions to relieve the patient. Do not treat this indifferently."

After Zhang received the test result, she first went to the county hospital then Shanghai Cancer Hospital to confirm the diagnosis, China News Service reported.

In October the Shanghai hospital told her the cancer cells had metastasised and spread to her bloodstream.

She had a hysterectomy and continues to receive chemotherapy, according to the report.

"If we had received the test result earlier and treated the cancer promptly, it would not have got so bad," Zhang's husband was quoted as saying.

He said that Zhang went to Shanghai each month for chemotherapy, which had cost over 400,000 yuan (US$60,000) so far.

Users on Weibo also voiced fierce criticism of the county's health commission. "This isn't a flaw, this is murder," a user wrote.

This article was first published on South China Morning Post.