Patient diagnosed with incurable breast cancer months after London hospital gave her all clear despite ‘abnormalities’ on scans

A London hospital trust has agreed a damages settlement with a woman who was told she had breast cancer – which had spread to her spine and liver – just nine months after being given the all clear following routine screening.

The woman, 52, who’d previously had a mass in her left breast in 2016 and been reassured it was not a concern, had a routine screening mammogram at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton, London, in November 2018, and was again told all was fine.

However, over the coming months she developed severe back pain and leg weakness, and having seen a GP arranged for private MRI scan which, in August 2019, revealed bilateral breast cancer with widespread metastatic disease in her bones and spine.

She was admitted to The Royal Marsden hospital for treatment, but was told the cancer could not be cured.

Legal claim alleged delay in diagnosis and treatment

As part of a legal claim against St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, led on her behalf by medical negligence specialists Hudgell Solicitors, it was alleged a failure to diagnose the cancer in November 2018 had been negligent.

Lawyers said independent medical experts, consulted as part of the case to give their opinion of the treatment provided, were of the view that there suspicious abnormalities on mammograms taken in November 2018 should have been reported and further investigated.

Hudgell Solicitors alleged the failure to do so surmounted to a breach of the Trust’s duty of care, causing a delay in diagnosis and treatment, reducing the patient’s life expectancy further.
Despite denying any breach of duty of care, St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust made an out-of-court damages settlement offer, which was accepted by the patient, now 58.
‘I push myself to be strong’
Recalling the moment she was told she had cancer, and how it had spread, the woman said: “When I was diagnosed with breast cancer and told it had spread to my spine and liver I was in complete shock.
“There had been no outward breast changes. I was completely taken by surprise. I just remember thinking that I could not tell my mother or son about the extent of my illness.
“I don’t remember much of that time in hospital but I remember the when the consultant came to see me and she confirmed that I had breast cancer which had spread to my spine and that whilst this could not be cured, it could be treated.”
The woman underwent chemotherapy and therapy treatments and responded well, but her mobility has gradually reduced, and she has needed increasing assistance from her husband with routine daily tasks, although she has been able to continue working from home.
She said: “When I go out of the house, everything takes more planning and thinking about to ensure that it’s not too much for me. This has impacted the number of things we do as a family, though I try not to let it.
“Emotionally I am not the same person that I used to be, and my life has changed completely. I try to be hard and brave and then I get to point where I think ‘why me?’
“It was a big shock to go from never being sick to being restricted and limited in lots of ways. I push myself to be strong for my family and my husband.
“I’ve always felt l that if I didn’t do that and behave in a positive way it would set me back. If I’ve needed to talk to someone, I’ve had the number of someone for professional help, but I do not like to dwell on it as it makes me upset.
“Even when I see cancer research on the TV I get upset so I try to push things to the back of my mind and focus on the positives.”
Settlement allows ‘focus to be on health and family’
Solicitor Abigail Frudd, a medical negligence claims specialist at Hudgell Solicitors, said: “Being diagnosed with cancer has had a huge impact on my client’s life, as it does for everybody who finds themselves in this situation.
“In each and every case where somebody has cancer, the earlier the detection, the better chance there is of putting a treatment plan in place which can improve their health and potential recovery. It is unacceptable for there to be avoidable delays.
“In this case it was the opinion of independent medical experts that were consulted that my client’s life-expectancy had been reduced by two years by the delay in starting treatment, which she thankfully is now living beyond.
“As with any diagnosis of cancer, this has been devastating for my client and her family, and it was our case that this should have been investigated further nine months earlier than it was.
“Had it been so, it is likely that she would have been recalled to the assessment clinic within two weeks and diagnosed by late November 2018. Treatment could then have started, which would have extended her life expectancy.
“It would have also meant the increasing back pains she suffered from March to August 2019, which impacted on her mobility and caused great discomfort, could also have been better managed.
“Although the Trust denied liability throughout the case, we were grateful to them for resolving the matter and for making an acceptable offer to settle the case out of court.
“This preventing putting my client through a court hearing, when her focus is quite rightly on staying in the best possible health, and spending quality time with her family.”