Plymouth mum given terminal diagnosis after Derriford Hospital missed cancer

A mum-of-two from Plymouth had to give up her job with the NHS due to ill health and is now terminal after medics at Derriford Hospital failed to spot cancer cells. Sarah Roch, aged 43 was forced to take early retirement from her career in a clinical job at Derriford Hospital and will now have chemotherapy for the rest of her life.

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust has apologised to Sarah and admitted liability for incorrectly interpreting samples taken from Sarah's cervix in June 2013. This critical error deprived Sarah of the opportunity for early intervention, preventing the development of invasive cervical cancer and sparing her from extensive medical treatments.

A settlement was reached in March this year acknowledging the profound impact on Sarah's life and her limited life expectancy due to the negligence. The hospital trust has implemented changes to improve diagnostic accuracy and prevent similar errors and Sarah is urging women to be vigilant about their bodies and seek a second opinion if they have doubts about their medical care ahead of next week’s Cervical Screening Awareness Week.

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Sarah said: "I want women to be aware of their bodies and to trust their instincts. If women have unexplained vaginal bleeding, leaking or discharge or pain and discomfort in their stomach, womb or lower back and pelvis, get checked out. If something doesn't feel right, please speak up and seek further investigation. No one should go through what I've experienced."

Sarah’s claim against the trust which runs Derriford Hospital concerned an admitted failure to identify abnormal pre-cancer cells on a smear/cervical biopsy, which tragically resulted in Sarah developing incurable cervical cancer. Sarah will have chemotherapy every three weeks for the rest of her life.

Her harrowing journey began in 2010 when she received abnormal smear test results. In subsequent years, including 2011 and 2012, Sarah underwent follow-up tests due to persistent abnormalities. Despite these red flags, her condition was not appropriately investigated or treated.

In May 2013, she underwent another smear test and was subsequently referred to the colposcopy clinic for further evaluation. Biopsies were taken in June 2013, but, tragically, medical professionals failed to identify the presence of abnormal cells. She was reassured that everything had returned to normal.

By 2016, Sarah's health began to deteriorate significantly. She experienced symptoms such as bloating, indigestion, and bleeding after sexual intercourse. These warning signs were repeatedly dismissed by healthcare providers, attributing her distress to constipation and providing inadequate explanations for her worsening condition.

Despite persistent symptoms and escalating concerns, Sarah's diagnosis was repeatedly overlooked. Medical consultations in December 2017 and subsequent visits failed to identify the underlying cervical cancer, leaving Sarah increasingly anxious and desperate for answers.

It wasn't until late 2019, after enduring years of suffering and persistent symptoms, that Sarah was incidentally diagnosed with Stage 2b cervical cancer following a hysterectomy that she has insisted on having, despite doctors advising against it.

By this time, the cancer had metastasised, necessitating aggressive treatments including chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and multiple extensive surgeries. Sadly, none of these treatments have cured her of her disease.

Ceri-Ann Taylor, the specialist clinical negligence solicitor at Enable Law that supported Sarah, said: "Sarah's case underscores the critical need for accurate and timely diagnosis in women's healthcare. There were multiple missed opportunities by the NHS.

“If Sarah’s pre-cancerous cells had been recognised and treated she would not have gone on to develop cervical cancer at all, and would have a normal life expectancy. Instead, her life will be cut very short, and she will leave behind her much loved family. By sharing Sarah's story, we hope to prevent future tragedies and ensure that patients receive the care they deserve."

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust has now implemented changes which included ensuring accurate reporting and interpretation of histopathology results, implementing regular education sessions to discuss challenging cases and ensure consistent diagnosis and grading of lesions, and requiring dual examination of slides by pathologists in cases involving cervical glandular lesions.

A spokesperson for University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust said: “We are so very, very sorry and we apologise to Mrs Roch and for the distress this has caused to her family. A diagnosis of cancer is devastating, and the trust missed the opportunity to identify precancerous cells in 2013.

“We wrote to Mrs Roch early last year to explain how very sorry we are for the errors in her care, and we reiterate that apology. We have made a number of recommendations, including having at least two pathologists examine slides before authorisation of reports given the rare and difficult nature of cervical glandular lesions.”

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