Medical Negligence

‘Delays in diagnosing my cancer left it untreatable.’

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6 min read time

A woman whose cervical cancer became untreatable after a 15-month delay in diagnosis is urging other families to ‘speak and look out for loved ones’ to ensure they have access to vital tests and treatment for the killer disease.

Mother-of-two Christine Gilliland, 55, of Prospect, Cumbria, had visited her GP surgery on a number of occasions as she was increasingly concerned about continuing health issues including heavy bleeding and hair loss.

She has now been awarded a six-figure damages settlement following a legal case, led by Hudgell Solicitors, alleging negligence by two GP’s who failed to send her for appropriate tests.

Her case has concluded as Cancer Research UK has claimed that around 2.4 million patients could be left waiting longer for cancer tests or treatment because of the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with most delays relating to breast, bowel or cervical screening.

It also comes as The Institute of Cancer Research has warned that a three-month delay could make the difference between a tumour being curable or not.

A grandmother of five, Mrs Gilliland says the current situation is a huge worry, and fears it could see many more being given similar devastating news as she received in December 2015 when she had cancer, and then again two years later when informed it was incurable.

“It is important that people know what happened in my case, the huge consequences of delays in cancer diagnosis and treatment and the difference that can make,” she said.

“I wish I’d demanded more each and every time I went to the GP but I was perhaps hoping for good news and it probably suited me more to believe it was something else.

“You simply can’t afford for there to be any delays in cancer tests and treatment, from people going to the doctors with their concerns to the health professionals then acting quickly and appropriately.

“I am sure it is a worrying time for so many given the current situation and people will have to do all they can to secure the care they need. Families will have to speak and look out for their loved ones.”

Legal case highlighted 15-month delay in diagnosis of cancer

As part of the legal case, it was alleged that she should have been referred for further investigation of her symptoms on her very first visit to her GP surgery back in May 2014.

Hudgell Solicitors alleged that had that happened, Mrs Gilliland would have been diagnosed with cervical cancer 15 months earlier and could have received treatment to cure the disease.

The tumour was subsequently only discovered in December 2015 after Mrs Gilliland had been sent for a hysterectomy.

Vince Shore, Joint Head of Clinical Negligence at Hudgell Solicitors, said: “In this case, the delays were simply down to sufficient investigations not being carried out at the appropriate time.

“Mrs Gilliland went to her GP a number of times with continuing symptoms. On four separate occasions, twice by two doctors, she should have been referred for further investigations which could have identified this cancer 15 months earlier than it eventually was.

“Her doctors were simply not thorough enough and didn’t fully investigate her ongoing concerns. These were basic errors with huge consequences.

“These mistakes happened at times when the health service did not face the very difficult situation we have now, in that we know there have been thousands of tests delayed whilst the NHS has quite rightly made tackling the Covid-19 pandemic a priority over the past three months, saving so many lives.

“Given there are usually around 95,000 operations to remove common cancers in adults in England each year, experts say that a three-month delay could lead to almost 5,000 excess deaths, whilst a six-month delay could lead to almost 11,000 more deaths.

“That means we are now entering an extremely crucial and worrying period for many thousands of patients and their families.

“People of course need to recognise and appreciate the extra pressure the NHS will be under but also be prepared to ask questions and be assertive as any further delays could clearly mean greater risk to life.”

I’ve tried to be positive but I have seen how quickly cancer takes people

Mrs Gilliland describes living through cancer treatment as ‘horrendous’ and says the gruelling chemotherapy treatment drained her of life.

She was forced to give up a job she loved, working with children as a mental health nurse at the Carleton Clinic in Carlisle, because of the risk of infection. Her husband, Peter, also had to give up work to care for her during her chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment.

In 2017 she was told the cancer had spread to her lungs and that condition was terminal and that from that point onwards it would be treated palliatively, with the focus on relieving pain, rather than curing the condition.

However, in October 2018, chemotherapy also had to be stopped as it was affecting her kidney.

Speaking about the impact of treatment on her, she said: “I’m not even half the woman I used to be because of all the treatment that I have had, it has really taken its toll.

“It is a horrible disease, horrendous. I was having chemotherapy every three weeks, then I’d be on the settee for two weeks feeling sick. And just as I was picking up a bit I would have to go for more chemo and that would knock me out again.

“The treatment makes you feel ill, you don’t have an appetite, you lose weight, I lost my hair and didn’t have the energy to do things. It is really powerful stuff.

“Obviously it was a huge worry when I was told I wasn’t able to have any more treatment and for doctors to assess me every three months. It was strange though because I did start to get more energy when I wasn’t having chemotherapy. You don’t really notice how bad it makes you feel until you stop.

“I try to be as positive as I can but I have seen how quickly people with cancer can go downhill. All of the ladies I had treatment with have since passed away and a lot of them were younger than I am. I’m 55 and I did not think I would get to this age.”

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