Advising with empathy and experience

Nurse dies of cervical cancer after 6 'all clear' results.

The family of a nurse who died after wrongly being told six times that she did not have cervical cancer has called for an inquiry.

Julie O’Connor, 49, was assured she did not have cervical cancer following a smear test, biopsies and numerous clinical examinations.

She learnt the truth only after she went to see a private consultant three years later but by then her illness was terminal.

Her family, who believe other cases may have been missed, are campaigning for an independent review into cervical smear screening at Southmead Hospital, run by North Bristol NHS Trust.

Mr O’Connor said: “‘We don’t think it’s isolated. We think there is a systemic problem there. No one person can be that unlucky to have a misdiagnosed smear, missed biopsies and all these clinical examinations and we’re talking to senior members of staff.

“We want to look forward, but we also have to work out if there are other victims out there. That’s what Julie wanted. There needs to be an independent public inquiry.  That is the only way we are going to get to the bottom of it.

“She was let down by the NHS. That’s why we went private in the end. We don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”

Mrs O’Connor went to Southmead for a smear test in September 2014 after moving to Thornbury, South Gloucestershire. The test came back negative, although samples sent later for independent analysis showed signs of cervical cancer.

A year later, Mrs O’Connor suffered persistent bleeding and her GP referred her for further assessment.

Despite biopsies and medical examinations during the next two years, she was repeatedly told she did not have cancer. In 2017, when doctors put her on a ‘cancer pathway’ to test for the disease for a third time, Mrs O’Connor decided to see a private consultant.

Her husband says: “Within ten seconds of being there the senior gynaecologist said ‘How could anybody have missed this?’ He said it was a 4.5cm tumour and he had actually struggled to get a camera inside, it was that bad.

“Whilst North Bristol Trust have accepted negligence they need to look at the bigger picture. Are there more victims? There are seriously, fundamental failings within North Bristol Trust cervical cancer screening and we just don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

North Bristol Trust has commissioned an independent review of the investigation it carried out into Mrs O’Connor’s care.

The trust has admitted negligence relating to the delayed diagnosis of cancer and a spokesman said solicitors were working towards a settlement.

Trust medical director, Dr Chris Burton, said: “We are extremely sorry to hear that Mrs O’Connor has died.

“We are committed to understanding the full circumstances of the care we provided so we can improve our services for the future, and we will be publicly open with the overall findings of the independent investigation we have commissioned. I have met with Mr O’Connor and will remain in contact with him.”

Women aged between 25 and 49 are invited for screening every three years, rising to every five years for women aged 50 to 64.

But a National Audit Office report earlier this month found that just a third of patients received their test results within the recommended two weeks, with some left waiting an agonising four months.

The cervical screening uptake in Britain is at an all-time low of just 71 per cent, with five million women overdue for testing.