Concerned GPs referred a nurse to specialists three times over fears that she may have had cervical cancer – only to be dismissed by gynaecologists, an inquest heard yesterday.
Julie O’Connor was told six times by Southmead Hospital in Bristol she did not have the disease, and waited three years for a diagnosis after a smear test and biopsy were wrongly reported as normal.
It was only when she went to see a consultant at a private hospital that the mother-of-two discovered she had a tumour almost 2in across.
Julie O’Connor (pictured), 49, a former NHS nurse from Thornbury, South Gloucestershire, died after doctors bungled several smear test and biopsy results for over two years
Despite numerous treatments the cancer spread through her body and she died aged 49 last February.
Yesterday, an inquest was told she had been placed on a two-week cancer pathway by GPs twice. This is intended to fast-track those showing the symptoms of cancer so that any tumours can be diagnosed within a fortnight.
Following examinations and tests at Southmead Hospital in October 2015 and August 2016, Mrs O’Connor was told everything was normal and she was removed from the pathway.
However, Avon Coroner’s Court in Bristol heard that Dr Rebecca Williams, Mrs O’Connor’s GP, remained concerned as she still had cervical cancer symptoms, including persistent bleeding.
So in November 2016 she made a third referral to Southmead Hospital – again flagging up cervical cancer symptoms.
During an inquest at Avon Coroner’s Court, Mrs O’Connor’s husband, Kevin (pictured), 50, said that his wife was informed in October 2017 that she had stage four cancer
Mrs O’Connor was seen by specialists in February 2017 and it was suggested she had further tests the next month.
Instead, she decided to see consultant gynaecologist Fraser McLeod at The Spire, a private hospital in Bristol, who immediately suspected that she had cervical cancer.
Yesterday, he told Maria Voisin, Senior Coroner for Avon, that during an examination ‘it was an immediate “I’m highly suspicious it’s cervical cancer”.’
Feras Naaisa, a consultant gynaecologist at Southmead Hospital who examined Mrs O’Connor when she was put on the cancer pathway, admitted what happened to her was ‘tragic’. When he saw her, she had already had a smear test in 2014 reported as negative. He inspected her cervix and took a biopsy, which was reported as normal in December 2015.
Mr Naaisa said: ‘It’s unfortunate that we missed it on multiple occasions. I inspected the cervix thoroughly and it did not look suspicious to me. That and a negative smear reassured me.
‘It’s a tragic story.’
However, the smear sample was later sent for independent analysis, which showed it was ‘plentiful’ with abnormal cells
From her first routine smear test in September 2014 to her eventual cancer diagnosis in March 2017, the mother-of-two (pictured with husband Kevin) was let down by a catalogue of failures
Mr O’Connor, who is now a single parent to their young children Sophie and Daniel, has voiced his ‘grave concerns’ about negligence
Mrs O’Connor’s husband, Kevin, 50, criticised the number of missed opportunities to diagnose his wife, and raised concerns that there may be other victims – as he has previously told the Daily Mail.
He said: ‘Yet again an opportunity to diagnose Julie’s cancer was missed. When Julie had a breast biopsy in May 2018, which was again wrongly reported as negative by the North Bristol NHS Trust, Julie was in hospital, and I remember a nurse saying words to the effect, “I couldn’t believe one person could be so unlucky”.
‘I am also concerned about the number of gynaecologists who examined Julie in her NHS care, and none of them identified a cervical cancer leading to further tests, despite Julie’s GP highlighting concerns about Julie’s cervix.
‘I am extremely concerned that a proper independent investigation has not taken place.’ The inquest continues.