Medical Negligence

12-month delay in treatment after doctors missed cancer on scan cost grandmother four years of life

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Shauna Page

Senior Solicitor

5 min read time

A London hospital trust has admitted the failure of its doctors to spot signs of lung cancer on a patient’s scan led to a 12-month delay in treatment which ultimately cost her four years of life.

Maureen Gater was referred to the University Hospital Lewisham by her GP after a period of three weeks coughing up blood.

An x-ray showed a subtle obscurity on her lung but the scan was wrongly recorded by doctors as not being of any significance, meaning a follow-up x-ray was not prompted weeks later.

It meant the cancer was not diagnosed until more than a year later, when Mrs Gater returned to her GP suffering from pains all over her body, feeling unwell and sweaty and with a persistent chesty cough, again having coughed up blood.

At that point she was again referred for a chest x-ray at the same hospital. CT scans showed a 4cm mass pressing into her chest wall and a biopsy confirmed the cancer.

Despite undergoing four cycles of chemotherapy treatment the cancer spread to her brain and kidney the following year. She became too ill for further treatment and died in December 2017, less than three years after first becoming ill.

As part of a legal case led by our team at Hudgell Solicitors, the Trust admitted to breaches of its duty of care, and that the errors had caused a 12 month delay in diagnosis.

It was also admitted that, had a second scan been carried out some six weeks after the first, and the cancer spotted and treatment started then, Mrs Gater, of Bromley, would likely have lived another four years.

Family look back with regret and urge others to ask for more answers over scans

Mrs Gater’s daughter, Joanne Christie, said it had been hard to come to terms with losing precious time with her mother due to the mistakes of medical professionals.

She said the family had taken legal action as they wanted answers and for lessons to be learned, agreeing to share their mother’s story as they want other families to ask questions when there is a lack of clarity over what scans have showed.

“It is so hard to know your mum has been taken from you early because of a mistake by those treating her,” she said.

“When mum had her scan and we heard nothing back we all assumed it was good news and that there was nothing to worry about. It was not until more than a year later when she really started to feel quite ill again that she went back and we started asking questions about the scan a year earlier.

“My mum was somebody who would only ever say she didn’t feel right when she felt ill. She didn’t make a fuss and didn’t tell you the full detail.

“Looking back now, over that year between the first scan and the one when the cancer was finally spotted, she did begin to struggle. She’d get dizzy if it was getting late and she was walking in artificial light, and she started to slow down and needed a trolley to walk with, which was unlike her as she was always fit and active.”

Joanne says she and her family now look back and wonder if they could have asked more questions at the time, and say they want other families to question care more, especially in the current climate.

“We took legal action as we wanted answers and we wanted to make sure lessons were learned,” she said.

“I can remember that my sister asked the consultant, who had actually treated my dad for his lung cancer before he died, if the cancer should have been spotted on the first x-ray. He just looked away from her. We knew then there had been a mistake.

“We know and appreciate how hard people work in the NHS and how under pressure they are, perhaps now more so than ever, so I want other families to know how important it is to question things and ask more about scan results.

“I wouldn’t want other people to lose loved ones, and given all that has happened with Covid, people perhaps have to shout louder now more than ever.

“My mum lost precious time with her seven grandchildren. She’s missed her grandson growing up who she was so close to and also didn’t get to see her West End performing granddaughter gain a full scholarship at Italia Conti. She also wasn’t aware that her illness changed the course of her eldest granddaughter’s career, as she is now qualified and working as a nurse. We’ve also lost precious time with her too of course.”

Solicitor says case highlights how diagnosis errors have massive impact on lives

Solicitor Shauna Page, of Hudgell Solicitors, represented the family in the legal claim and said: “This was a very sad case which highlighted the huge importance of scans being thoroughly examined and recorded in the right manner.

“The initial scan showed a subtle nodule which was missed by the reporting radiologist. This meant there was a failure to schedule a further x-ray within six weeks, and ultimately this misdiagnosis left Mrs Gater’s cancer to develop untreated for a year.

“When patients are sent home in situations like this it is often not immediately noticeable through their day to day health that they have an underlying, life-threatening condition, and often when that condition is discovered it is then too late for effective treatment.

“Mrs Gater’s family have been keen to share their story as they hope it encourages other families to press for answers, especially in similar circumstances, and it is a credit to them for doing so.”

Damages of £65,000 were agreed with Mrs Gater’s family.

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