St James' Hospital boss apologises after Leeds woman's terminal cancer diagnosis missed by doctors twice

A hospital boss has apologised after a Leeds woman's cancer diagnosis was delayed by two years.
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Anne Shaw, 68, from Shadwell, had beaten cancer twice before - but its return left her feeling like she is living on “death row”.

That is because the terminal ovarian cancer, which spread from June 2019 until September 2021, was missed by medics on two occasions.

Anne Shaw is living with terminal ovarian cancer after it was missed by medics twice.Anne Shaw is living with terminal ovarian cancer after it was missed by medics twice.
Anne Shaw is living with terminal ovarian cancer after it was missed by medics twice.
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A law firm, which has been supporting Anne in securing a settlement from St James’s University Hospital, said that if the cancer was detected earlier, it would have meant she would not have had to undergo a colostomy. She now lives with a stoma, which severely restricts her diet and activities.

Anne is calling for a change in NHS policy to make it mandatory for two radiologists to analyse patients’ scans for recurring cancer.

She said: “I feel like I’m on Death Row. I don’t have a quality of life anymore, I don’t have pride in my appearance. This has ruined what I’ve got left of my life, it’s absolutely devastating.

“Because no-one realised for more than two years that the cancer had come back, I have not got long left. The fact I’m so tired all the time and I have a stoma means that I can’t do many of the things I’d have wanted to.

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“I try to get on with things as best I can, and not think ‘What if’ all the time, but it’s very hard.”

A law firm has argued that scan clearly showed the presence of cancer.A law firm has argued that scan clearly showed the presence of cancer.
A law firm has argued that scan clearly showed the presence of cancer.

She continued: “I know mistakes happen, but someone looked at my scan and didn’t spot cancer, despite the fact I’ve had cancer before. I was flagging up my symptoms but they still didn’t realise.

“I would like to see a change so that two radiologists have to look at scans like mine together, so they can discuss and assess what they both see.

“For me, it’s too late. But this could help to save someone else’s life, or at least give them the time or quality of life that I don’t have.”

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Anne, who worked as a skills trainer during her career, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, but after a lumpectomy and removal of lymph nodes, as well as chemotherapy, she was given the all-clear. But she was later diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

She underwent surgery to remove her ovaries and was again told she was cancer-free. In 2019, Anne returned to St James’ for scans in June and July.

“I had been really tired and worried the cancer had come back but was told I was fine. I found out two years later that the cancer was obvious on the second scan,” she said.

“If they’d have looked at my medical records, they must have known what they should have been looking for.”

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The following year, Anne returned to hospital complaining of worsening pain, like that she experienced when she had ovarian cancer years earlier – but after examination, she was again assured it had not returned.

She added: “The registrar I saw had clearly not read my medical records. He felt my stomach area briefly and told me I was fine, despite what I was telling him. If he’d have known my history of cancer, he really should have given me a more thorough examination.”

By 2021, Anne’s condition had worsened and she was struggling with pain and fatigue. Having returned to her GP, who fast-tracked her to the oncology team at St James’s Hospital, her worst fears were confirmed.

“I had to undergo major surgery and have a colostomy, which wouldn’t have been needed had it been picked up sooner,” says Anne.

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“I’m a strong character and try to look forward not backwards. While I’m of course upset about the scans, it’s the appointment in 2020, where I was given the poorest of examinations, that really sticks in my throat.

“My life has been turned upside down, everything has changed, all because of these two missed opportunities to find out that my cancer has returned. The stoma is particularly hard to live with, it’s absolutely horrendous, the most horrible thing I could imagine."

The impact on her husband has also been life-changing, with him seeking counselling and psychological support as he battles to stay strong for his wife.

The impact on Anne's husband Louis has also been devastating.The impact on Anne's husband Louis has also been devastating.
The impact on Anne's husband Louis has also been devastating.

“I’m angry, I’m upset, and I’ll admit I’m not coping,” he said.

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“I go for a ten-mile walk every morning to try and clear my head – but then I get home, and the reality is the same.

“This has been the most horrendous ordeal, and all because Anne wasn’t diagnosed when she should have been. That is very hard to live with.”

Anne is keen to meet with a representative of the NHS trust to discuss her case – which law firm Slater and Gordon said had initially been declined.

She said: “While it cannot help me, I would really like a controlled meeting. Actions have consequences, and if they were to listen to me, it may help prevent a repeat of a similar experience for somebody else.”

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Clinical negligence specialist lawyer John Lowther, of Slater and Gordon, has been leading Anne’s claim.

He said: “This is an absolutely shocking case of two opportunities to identify Anne’s cancer being missed – because of the failures to realise it had returned, she now has a much poorer quality of life and is understandably very distressed about living with a stoma.

“The past few years have been hugely difficult for Anne and Louis, and what should have been a happy retirement is now a living nightmare for them both.

“What happened in this case is absolutely unacceptable and action must be taken by St James’s University Hospital to ensure this is not repeated, and these very costly mistakes are not allowed to ruin the lives of other patients.

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“Anne’s suggestion of a change in policy, scans looking to identify possible signs of recurrent cancer where that is actively suspected, are checked by two radiologists, including one who specialises in diagnosis of cancer, is a very logical one.

“We would support adoption of this, not just in this particular hospital but across the NHS, including where services are outsourced.”

In response to the concerns, Dr Magnus Harrison, Chief Medical Officer for Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We are deeply sorry for the delay in diagnosing Anne’s cancer and the impact this had on Anne’s health.

“As soon as we were aware of the error, we met with Anne and explained we would investigate the reporting discrepancies.

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“This is so that we can understand why and how it happened and what we can learn and improve.”

He added: “We have shared the findings from this investigation with Anne and we have shared the learning with our radiologists and radiographers.

“We apologise that Anne’s requests to meet have not been followed up and we will be contacting Anne as soon as possible to arrange a convenient time to meet.”

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