Premature death of County Durham lung cancer patient

Mrs N was aged 69 when she developed pain in her right shoulder blade.  Her GP arranged for her to have a chest x-ray at a local hospital in April 2013 and this was reported as normal.

Mrs N’s back pain continued.  By the end of 2013 she was suffering some breathing difficulties which were attributed to a chest infection.  When antibiotics failed to improve her condition a second chest x-ray was arranged.  This revealed nodules on her lungs which required further investigation.  She was referred for a CT scan and to a Chest Physician under the 2 week wait rule.

Sadly, the outcome in January 2014 was that Mrs N was suffering from lung cancer.  It was in both lungs and had spread to her spine.  It was at this stage that the Chest Physician realised that the April 2013 x-ray had also shown a mass in Mrs N’s right lung and that this had been missed.

The hospital investigated this error and confirmed that they had contracted out the work of reporting her x-ray to an outside service provider who has missed the lesion.  They could only apologise.

Mrs N commenced treatment and responded well initially.  She was a very fit lady and coped well with the treatment however a follow up CT scan showed that the cancer was progressing.  In February 2015 the cancer was found to have metastasised to her brain and Mrs N passed away in May 2015, aged 72, leaving behind her husband of over 50 years who continued with the claim on her behalf.

The NHS Trust responsible accepted that they had breached their duty to care to Mrs N very early on however they disputed that the 9 month delay made any difference to her treatment or prognosis.  As a result Mr N was forced to issue Court proceedings against the Trust in August 2016.

Mr N’s case, supported by an independent Clinical Oncologist was that

a) His wife’s cancer should have been diagnosed in May 2013.

b) There was no evidence that the cancer had spread by this time and his wife would have been offered surgery to remove the cancer followed by chemotherapy.

c) As a result of the delay in diagnosis, the cancer had been allowed to spread so that surgery was no longer an option.

d) His wife’s life had been shortened by more than 2 years as a result.

The NHS Trust disputed the Claimant’s evidence but only months before a trial at the High Court was due to start, the matter was settled in 2018 in Mr N’s favour when he agreed to accept a 5-figure sum in damages.

The motivation for Mr N was never compensation.  He feels that he has finally got justice for his wife but he continues to miss her every day and he feels robbed of the time he should have been able to spend with her.

Delaying a diagnosis and treatment of cancer of any kind can mean the difference between life and death.  If you have been affected in this way, please get in touch with one of our solicitors to discuss if there is anything we can do to help.

Ashleigh Holt – June 2018