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Misreporting of cervical smear test has tragic consequences

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All women aged 25 to 49 should have cervical smear tests every three years, but it was recently reported that the NHS failed to send letters about cervical cancer screening to more than 40,000 women.

However, even for those women who have been screened, misreporting of the results can have catastrophic consequences. As far back as 1995 eight women died as a result of misreporting of tests at Kent and Canterbury Hospital and 30 women had hysterectomies in a bid to beat cancer which was not diagnosed early enough.

Misreporting continues to put women at risk

In 2013 it was found that one NHS trust had misreported nearly 10,000 smear test results. Almost 10% of those women had been given a negative result when their test was in fact positive. That was the case with our client, who was only 32 years old when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2016. Her condition was so serious that she had to have an urgent hysterectomy in spite of her wanting to add to her family in the future.

Sadly this was not enough to treat the cancer which returned within a few months at which point she was told it was unlikely that she could be cured. She then had months of treatment including chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy which had significant and devastating side effects. She lost her hair, put on weight and was no longer able to control her bladder.

Enduring a harrowing course of treatment

The doctors were amazed at how well she responded and for a few months it seemed that she had beaten the odds and that the cancer had gone. However, the cancer returned once again but this time had spread to her brain. She had surgery to remove the brain tumour followed by weeks of radiotherapy. Once again her hair fell out, she was in constant pain and was exhausted.

She was no longer able to cope on her own and had to rely on friends and family to come into her home to help her with simple tasks like making a cup of tea, getting her in and out of the bath and driving her to hospital appointments. She could not get down the stairs to her basement bedroom and so had to sleep on the sofa.

Tests done seven years previously were misreported

An NHS review showed that our client’s routine smear tests conducted some seven years previously in 2011 and 2012 were mistakenly reported as being normal. Both tests in fact showed changes in the cells which should have been detected.

She was understandably angry that she was let down by the NHS and was also upset that, in spite of admitting their error, the NHS did not make an offer of compensation in time to allow her to move into more suitable accommodation so that she could sleep in a bed and pay for professional carers to help and improve her quality of life in the time she had remaining.

Lucy Adams of Shoosmiths was approached for assistance and was able to obtain an admission of fault from the Gloucestershire NHS Foundation Trust which was responsible for misreporting the smear test results resulting in delays to treatment that otherwise might have avoided her enduring a great deal of what she had to go through.

The Trust admitted liability in respect of the smear test taken in 2012 but denied that the 2011 test was negligently reported. Our client knew that her life expectancy was limited but was desperate to beat the odds so that she could spend as much time as possible with her young daughter. Tragically her condition deteriorated and she died in hospital in July 2018 at only 34 years of age. The claim is ongoing.

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