Cervical Cancer Prevention Week

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17 January, 2022

This week is cervical cancer prevention week One in three women and people with a cervix don't attend cervical screening however cervical cancer prevention doesn't stop at screening.

220,000 women and people with a cervix every year are told they have cervical cell changes after their screening, and many more are given a HPV diagnosis. This can mean more tests and treatments, and for some it can be incredibly hard time.

The Times newspaper featured an article last week about the tragic case of a "27-year-old, from Portsmouth, who had been complaining of abdominal pain and bleeding months earlier but was told her symptoms were "hormonal". As a result, the consultant did not examine her or refer her for further tests.

When she felt a shortness of breath two months later in March 2020 as the country entered its first lockdown she had two phone consultations and was prescribed antibiotics.

The coroner's court was told she was only seen face-to-face by doctors after her continued shortness of breath was falsely believed to be Covid-19" The events management graduate was immediately rushed to Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth where an aggressive form of cervical cancer was diagnosed. She died a day later on April 14 2020.

An agency locum gynaecologist at the hospital who saw McGregor-Sims when she was first referred by her GP, apologised to the family for not picking up her cancer and said he thought her symptoms were "hormonal" after she stopped birth control injections a year earlier.

"The coroner said: "Porsche had advanced cervical cancer which is usually slow-growing and, as with most cancers, the earlier the diagnosis the better the outcome on the whole.

"The only option was to do the priority referral. The two-week wait criteria is a national guideline. Four weeks (considering the Christmas break) is still quite fast.

"I think there is a structure they [doctors] have to adhere to. This structure may be at fault. [The doctors] were following national guidelines."

Due to it being the Christmas period McGregor-Sims was not seen by Schlesinger until late January 2020 despite first meeting with her GP a month earlier.

This demonstrates the difficulties medics face when treating young patients with unusual symptoms. To establish clinical negligence, you must show that the standard of treatment provided has, fallen below the standard expected of a reasonably competent clinician dealing with a particular condition at the relevant time.

Should the medic in this case have carried out further investigations? Some may say yes, other may disagree. The way we as lawyers establish whether there is a case is to obtain expert opinion on the standard of treatment. It is similar to a peer review. If the general view is most medics would have taken the same approach, then that would not be considered negligent. If some would and some wouldn't, that would still not be considered negligent. Most of them would have to agree the treatment was below standard.

Once substandard treatment is established, a claimant must prove the treatment has caused extra pain, suffering, loss and damage over and above that which would have been experienced if the appropriate treatment had been provided. Again expert medical opinion is required.

In Miss McGregor-Sims' case the outcome may not have been any different. If, however the failure to carry out further checks had resulted in a missed opportunity to treat and save her things could have been very different.

For more information contact John Bennett in our Clinical Negligence department via email or phone on 01254 872111. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

Learn more about our Clinical Negligence department here

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