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Breast Cancer Lady Speaks Out

One of the 16 women affected by the problems with Cumbria’s screening programme has criticised the report produced by the North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust into the failings and also its management of the crisis.

Christine Hullock, 63, from Penrith was diagnosed with breast cancer in August this year, despite being given an emphatic all-clear following a mammogram at the Cumberland Infirmary in April. She underwent a mastectomy in September.

Christine attended a routine mammogram in March, but was recalled to another appointment in April because the x-ray indicated a small change which needed to be checked. At that April appointment another mammogram was carried out along with an ultrasound scan. She then saw the radiologist who confirmed there was nothing about which to be concerned.

Christine, who is a sales negotiator at PF & K, said, “The doctor was really positive. He told me “get on with your life” and said that he wasn’t at all concerned so I shouldn’t be concerned. I was completely reassured.”

In August, Christine received another letter from the Trust, explaining that her mammogram was one of those being reviewed as part of the Trust’s investigation. The letter said, “You may benefit from being seen again before your next screen is due”.

Christine said, “There was no urgency. It was very casual and since the radiologist had been so definite I nearly didn’t bother but my partner Alan made me go.”

When Christine attended the hospital on 23rd August, a biopsy was carried out. A week later her cancer was confirmed. Following a lumpectomy on 3rd September, she was diagnosed with both a ductal carcinoma (non-invasive) and an aggressive, invasive cancer.

Christine is keen to draw a distinction between the Trust’s management and the breast care nurses. She said, “The nurses are brilliant, compassionate and professional. I couldn’t fault them.  They are incredible people.”

Victoria Watson, a clinical negligence solicitor from Burnetts is advising Christine and several other Cumbrian women who have been affected by the mistakes that have been made at both at the Cumberland Infirmary and the West Cumberland Hospital.

Victoria said, “The Trust’s report goes some way to making clear admissions that mistakes were made: that the screening programme failed to diagnose cancers that it could have reasonably been expected to diagnose and that there was also a failure to follow current best practice which has contributed to the delay in diagnosis for 16 women.”

“In light of these clear admissions, I hope that the Trust will now co-operate fully with the families in dealing with any litigation and complaints arising from these mistakes in a quick and effective manner to avoid any further distress.”
Victoria added, “In their press release on Friday, the Trust’s Chief Executive said that it would be impossible to say whether the delay in treatment has affected the women’s prognosis. In fact, that is a question we will be addressing for our clients with the help of independent medical experts.”

Christine is extremely disappointed with the Trust’s report into the crisis.

“I’ve seen the press release and the 11 page report, but very little in the way of explanation. It says that assessment procedures were not being followed, but does not say how or why not. They are too busy telling us how happy they are to be moving forward to think about the women whose lives they have turned upside down. I feel really let down. ”

“I don’t fall into one of the three categories they mention in the report since I have invasive and non-invasive cancer.  I feel like I have just been put to one side and it’s very upsetting to be dismissed like this and I wonder if the figures are right?. They have taken part of my body without a proper explanation or apology. The Trust’s management talk about our distress and anxiety and yet until the night before this report was issued, no-one had been in touch. If there are only 16 women involved, they should have found time to come and talk to us individually.” 

In October, Victoria highlighted that she was also seeing women from outside the dates that the Trust was reviewing and said she expected to see the review period extended. The Trust has now announced a review of a further 1000 mammograms.

Victoria said, “Again, I would advise women not to ignore any of the usual breast cancer warning signs because they have been given an all-clear on a mammogram before April 2007 or since July 2010.”

Recent research published in the British Medical Journal show that death rates from breast cancer in the last 17 years have fallen by 35% in England and Wales. Early diagnosis of the disease is critical to a good outcome and any delay in the diagnosis can be very serious and potentially catastrophic.

A free advice sheet has been produced by Victoria for anyone who thinks they may be a victim of delayed cancer diagnosis. It is available from http://www.burnetts.co.uk/pdfs/Breast Cancer in Cumbria.pdf or by calling Lynne Hall on 01228 552222.

For further media information, photograph or an interview with Christine and Victoria contact Angela Huck on 01228 552222, 07525 128762 or at ash@burnetts.co.uk

Notes to editor:

BMJ statistics and commentary available from http://www.bmj.com/content/341/bmj.c4480

Published: Monday 8th November 2010
Categorised: Medical Negligence

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