Signs of cervical cancer missed during screening - £1.2m in compensation

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Signs of cervical cancer missed during screening - £1.2m in compensation

Rebecca, a woman in her 30s

Rebecca had a happy family life with her partner and children before the negligence of two hospitals led to her developing cervical cancer. Tragically Rebecca went on to die, which had a catastrophic impact on her family. Kimberley Peet, a specialist medical negligence solicitor at JMW, was asked to investigate what went wrong with Rebecca’s care and whether her family was entitled to any compensation to provide the children with some financial security. After Kimberley brought successful medical negligence cases against the two hospitals, Rebecca’s children were awarded £1.2 million in compensation for their future. 

Start of ordeal 

When Rebecca visited her GP to obtain contraception, she mentioned that she had noticed some bleeding after sex. The GP examined Rebecca and carried out a cervical smear test to check the health of her cervix. The sample was sent to one of the hospitals for analysis and was incorrectly reported to be normal, when in fact pre-cancerous cells could be identified. 

About two months later, Rebecca went back to her GP due to near constant pain in her lower abdomen and pain during sex. As Rebecca had recently seen a specialist hospital doctor about her urinary function, the GP decided to await the outcome of their investigations. 

A few months later, Rebecca returned to her GP as she was concerned about how irregular her periods had become. The GP referred her for an ultrasound scan of her abdomen, which did not find anything of concern. 

Rebecca then fell pregnant and examinations in her third trimester revealed that her cervix was long and thick, however she was reassured that this was common during pregnancy and was not referred for a repeat smear test. 

After Rebecca’s baby was born her periods became very heavy, with bleeding or spotting also happening throughout the month. Rebecca also experienced pain and bleeding after sex. 

The following year it was time for Rebecca to attend her next routine cervical smear test. She reported all her ongoing symptoms to the nurse and was told to await the outcome of the test. 

The sample was this time sent to the second hospital for analysis. This was also negligently reported as normal when it contained cancerous cells that required urgent treatment. 

The following month, Rebecca felt overwhelmingly that something was not right and wanted a resolution. She attended her GP and said she was concerned that she had been bleeding after sex for the last two years. The doctor examined Rebecca’s cervix, which showed visible abnormalities, and referred her an urgent gynaecology appointment due to suspicion of cancer. 

Passed backwards and forwards

The ultrasound was carried out at the second hospital, but it did not detect the cancer in Rebecca’s cervix. Due to the fact that her previous two smear tests had been reported as normal, it was decided that she couldn’t have cancer and no follow tests were arranged. 

About two months later Rebecca experienced very heavy bleeding and lower abdominal pain and attended A&E. Checks were carried out but it was not believed that there was anything abnormal going on and Rebecca was discharged home.

Over the coming months, Rebecca’s condition only worsened, with increasingly worrying deteriorations. Her bladder function became severely impaired, and she even suffered episodes of incontinence. Rebecca was prescribed medication to try to help, but other concerning symptoms, such as her hair thinning, severe exhaustion and speech problems were harder to treat. 

Over the next few months, Rebecca was passed backwards and forwards between the gynaecology and urology specialists, with neither considering that cancer could be the root cause of her problems due to the smear tests incorrectly being reported as normal. However eventually the gynaecologists deemed it acceptable to refer Rebecca for further investigation of her cervix, with a cystoscopy. During this procedure a 3cm tumour was discovered. 

Rebecca underwent extensive surgery, as well as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but sadly the cancer could not be fully eradicated from her body due to the late stage of diagnosis. Rebecca died just a few weeks after the cancer was finally diagnosed, leaving her family devastated. 

JMW’s investigations 

Rebecca’s medical history was complex due to the sheer number of appointments she had attended with signs of cervical cancer. However, while there were many examples of poor care for Rebecca, establishing negligence in this case came down to the simple fact that her smear tests had been incorrectly reported. Due to her experience in similar cases, JMW’s Kimberley Peet knew that the smear test reporting was one of the first areas of Rebecca’s care in need of investigation. 

Kimberley instructed leading independent medical experts to look at Rebecca’s smear tests, to give their view on whether these had been reported accurately, or if there were any signs of cancer. The experts agreed that the reporting was negligent and that the tests showed pre-cancerous cells in the case of the earlier test, and cancerous cells in the latter test. The experts confirmed that if the cancer signs had been properly reported, and treatment started, then Rebecca would have been able to achieve a complete recovery. 

This news was completely heart-breaking for her family, and although it confirmed their worst fears, at least they finally had answers and could begin the painful process of picking up the pieces of their lives.

The hospital trusts responsible for checking Rebecca’s smear tests admitted this had been done negligently and agreed they should compensate her family. Although this was of small comfort to them, the compensation secured by Kimberley has eased some of their financial worries. 

Kimberley Peet, a specialist medical negligence solicitor at JMW who represented Rebecca’s family, said:

“Rebecca and her family were let down in the worst possible way by the screening system. It is crucial that those responsible for the errors are retrained as the incompetence shown in this case was shocking. Cervical screening has saved many lives, but Rebecca’s case shows the impact on patient care when mistakes are made.”

Kimberley Peet, Medical Negligence Solicitor
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