Barking and Dagenham Council failed to investigate possible cancer cluster says ombudsman

An east London council has said it will investigate a possible cancer cluster after a report criticised it for ignoring warnings about the disease.

Barking and Dagenham Council failed to investigate an alleged cancer cluster reported by a resident, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said.

The woman first outlined her fears about a number of cancer diagnosis in her neighbourhood to the local authority in April 2018 and “chased the council about her concerns over many months”, the report found.

But instead of going through the proper procedures, health officials failed to respond to the woman, lost her reports and did not take them through the appropriate channels, the Ombudsman said.

When the woman complained about the council’s inaction, it incorrectly referred her to the Environment Agency instead of the Ombudsman.

The town hall has agreed to apologise to the woman and pay her £750. It will also investigate her concerns.

A council spokesman added that there is currently no proof there is a cancer cluster in Barking and Dagenham and they are “incredibly rare”.

Ombudsman Michael King said: “I am highlighting this case to raise councils’ awareness that we can – and will – investigate the actions of directors of public health where we receive complaints.

“We are concerned about the lack of understanding within the council of its public health duties in relation to this issue. So I hope the changes the council has agreed to make, including developing and circulating a new procedure, will help ensure awareness is raised within the authority.”

A Barking and Dagenham Council spokesman said: “We have received the findings of the Ombudsman’s report regarding a resident’s complaints about potential cancer clusters in their neighbourhood.

“We have taken on board the concerns raised in the report and are already acting on its recommendations.

“As a council we accept we did not handle the concerns raised in a co-ordinated way which falls short of the standards of customer service we set ourselves and have since corrected this oversight – for this we apologise to the complainant.

“Although it is important to stress that the concerns about potential cancer clusters have not been proven, and such clusters are incredibly rare.

“We would like to reassure our residents that concerns of this nature are taken very seriously and we will act to protect the health and safety of our residents in such cases.”

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Rachael Burford

Local Democracy Reporter