Dying woman calls for NHS rule change as cancer missed twice

A dying woman whose cancer was missed twice by health professionals has said a lesson "needs to be learnt". Anne Shaw, 68, said her "whole life has completely changed" since the terminal diagnosis.

She said the news left her "devastated". Mrs Shaw has already survived breast and ovarian cancer, getting the all-clear from doctors after having an ovary removed.

However, a routine scan on her hip in 2019 showed another tumour on her remaining ovary which was missed by doctors. She is now petitioning for the introduction of Anne’s Rule, which is calling for two radiologists, one of whom specialises in cancer, to check all scan results in instances that clinicians suspect the disease is present.

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At present, it is only mammograms – X-rays of the breast used to diagnose breast cancer – that are reviewed by two radiologists as standard practice. Mrs Shaw told the PA news agency: “If a cancer specialist had looked at that X-ray and seen it there in 2019, I would have only needed chemo and maybe regular check ups."

"But because it wasn’t picked up I needed life changing surgery – my whole life has completely changed," said Mrs Shaw, adding: "Mrs Shaw is now calling for lessons to be learnt from her situation.

“I believe that when that consultant looked at my X-ray, he simply tunnel-visioned in on the top of my thigh. He did not look at the X-ray as whole,” she told PA. “And that’s fine, that was his job.

"But I want a second consultant to look at the X-ray as well. And that second consultant in my situation must be a cancer consultant so they can pick up any anomalies. It’s a lesson that needs to be learnt.”

Mrs Shaw told PA that when she received the all-clear, she was told to go back to St James’s University Hospital in Leeds if she had any concerns. She saw a registrar in the gynaecology service in February 2020 and told him she was feeling unwell and was worried her disease had reoccurred.

However, after an examination, Mrs Shaw said she was told “everything was fine”. She added: “I was just so relieved that I hadn’t got any problems that I didn’t think to push it at the time and I was just being a worrywart.”

By the summer of 2021, Mrs Shaw was “really starting to suffer” and by the time she was diagnosed in the autumn of that year, the cancer had spread to her bowel. She described the news as “devastating”, adding: “It made me more aware of the fact that I’m not going to live forever, which most of us feel – it’s a wake up call.”

Following her diagnosis, Mrs Shaw required a major operation, with part of her stomach and bowel removed. Surgeons also created a stoma – an opening on the surface of the stomach which diverts the flow of faeces or urine – which she has since nicknamed Tinkerbell.

However, there have been other health implications following the procedure, including two hernias on her abdomen. Mrs Shaw claims her tumour was about the size of a five pence piece on the X-ray from 2019.

She was not aware that it had been visible on the scan until a second meeting with her consultant following her terminal diagnosis. She told PA the news left her husband, Louis Shaw, 75, “absolutely livid”, adding: “My husband took it really, really badly and he’s still very angry about it all.”

Mrs Shaw describes herself as “an eternal optimist” and wants to “get some good” from the position she has been put in. She told PA: “If I can stop one person from going through what I’ve been through because a second consultant has looked at the X-ray or the scan, cost savings to the trust would be huge.”

Mrs Shaw said she would like to see Anne’s Rule implemented in Leeds then rolled out across other hospitals, initially in cancer care. “I think cancer care is the most important and that’s where it needs to start,” she added.

“But there are other diseases that can be picked up on X-ray. It would depend, I think, on the history of the patient.”

However, there are workforce issues in the radiology profession. It is understood that the NHS is operating with a 29% shortfall in clinical radiologists across the UK, which is contributing to delays.

A spokesperson for Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said: “Our chief medical officer has spoken with Mrs Shaw to apologise about the care provided, which is not the level of support that we aim to provide to our patients. They have arranged a meeting to further discuss Mrs Shaw’s care and listen to her insights and ideas to further reduce the risk of this happening again.”

John Lowther, senior associate and clinical negligence specialist at law firm Slater and Gordon, supported Mrs Shaw in securing a settlement from St James’s University Hospital and described her proposal as “extremely reasonable”.

“Anne has proposed a rule that would significantly reduce risk, potentially saving lives and NHS resources,” he added.

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