Woman diagnosed with colon cancer after being ‘fobbed off’ with anorexia

Charlie Puplett
Charlie Puplett

A woman was forced to undergo emergency surgery after GPs failed to spot “red flag” colon cancer symptoms for more than a year, with one suggesting she had anorexia.

Charlie Puplett, 45, had raised concerns with her surgery in Yeovil, Somerset, in May 2019 about unexplained weight loss, lack of appetite, change in bowel habits, a tender abdomen and stomach pain and bloating.

However, the GP practice did not carry out any tests for colon cancer, an investigation by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) has found.

Miss Puplett claimed she was repeatedly “fobbed off” by doctors, who told her she had anorexia.

The following April, during a Clap for Carers outside her home, she began vomiting blood and faeces.

Paramedics rushed her to Yeovil Hospital where she was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent an emergency operation to remove two-thirds of her colon and a tumour.

She said: “I was very frightened and just kept saying ‘no, it can’t be’.”

She also required a stoma, an opening on the abdomen that allows waste to be diverted out of the body into a bag.

Charlie Pulpett
Charlie Pulpett

The PHSO said the symptoms “should have been red flags leading to urgent attention”.

Statistics from Cancer Research UK show bowel cancer is the third most common cancer for women, with around 19,000 new cases every year.

Miss Puplett, a risk management controller, says the ordeal has left her with PTSD.

She said: “I kept going back to the practice and they just fobbed me off. They didn’t listen to me at all.

“I saw a different doctor each time, one of whom suggested I had anorexia and was in denial.”

Miss Puplett, whose cancer is now in remission, complained to the PHSO, a public body that investigates complaints about the NHS that cannot be resolved within the organisation involved.

The investigation, which included seeking advice from an independent GP, found that staff at the practice should have suspected cancer and referred her for further investigation within two weeks.

If Miss Puplett had been referred in time, she would have had a planned keyhole procedure, rather than unnecessary emergency surgery and a stoma, the investigation found.

She also would not have needed a further operation a year later to remove the stoma.

The surgery was recommended to pay Miss Puplett £2,950 for its failures and put in place an action plan to prevent this from happening in the future.

Miss Puplett added: “I’ve got a second chance and I’m thankful for that, but it’s had a huge effect on my life.

“I still experience a severe lack of sleep and restlessness, and I’m constantly living in fear that any health issue will turn into something worse.

“My confidence and self-esteem are through the floor and I have problems trusting anyone.”

Rob Behrens from the PHSO said: “Charlie was failed by the professionals who she went to for help and the effect on her life has been significant.

“Not only did she have to undergo unnecessary surgery, but it has also affected her emotional well-being.

“We cannot change what happened but it’s important that when mistakes are made, organisations acknowledge what has happened and commit to learning from these mistakes to prevent it from happening again.”