Advising with empathy and experience

Husband's campaign leads health board to admit that errors led to death of his staff nurse wife.


A campaign by a grieving husband has led to a Welsh hospital board admitting that failings in its care led to the cancer death of a nurse who died there after she was given the all clear.

Catherine Jones, 35, developed cancer and died three years after having an overian cyst removed at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, north Wales, where she worked, in July 2013.

A biopsy sample from the cyst should have been flagged as 'borderline' cancerous, meaning she would have been offered surgery to remove the affected right ovary and undergone further treatment but instead she was not called for any follow up appointments and assumed she had the all clear.

The cancer returned during summer of 2016 and Mrs Jones, who worked as a staff nurse on a cardiology ward, was rushed back to hospital.

Urgent tests revealed a large cancerous tumour and she underwent a hysterectomy. Mrs Jones was then wrongly told she was cancer free. In fact, it had spread and she died a few months later, in November 2016.

For the past four years Mrs Jones' husband, David, 42, a chartered engineer, has been fighting Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB), which runs the hospital, to learn the truth about his wife's care.

During that time managers insisted they had investigated Mrs Jones case properly and that nothing had gone wrong.

But a pre-inquest hearing, in Ruthin was told that that the hospital had finally apologised and admitted that it bungled Mrs Jones' treatment and that she was likely to have survived if had she received proper care.

Mr Jones of Hawarden, North Wales, who married his wife six years before her death, said: ”Catherine was concerned about what happened to her before she died. She knew things had gone wrong because the hospital had already indicated they were investigating.

“I promised her I would find out the truth. Her death was avoidable. She was deprived of her future and need not have suffered. She should have been celebrating her 40th birthday this week but she was let down at every stage by the very hospital she worked for.

“It is with profound regret, deep sadness and immense sorrow that I could not protect her from her ordeal. Her loss goes beyond my own and that of her family and friends. It is also a loss to her patients whose lives she should still be saving.”

North East Wales coroner, John Gittins, told the hearing: “I have been made aware by the health board that there has been a full and frank acceptance that the 2013 sample should have been categorised as a borderline case in which the care and treatment Catherine Jones would have received thereafter would not have been as it was.

“Ultimately, it was an acceptance that she would not have died because the ovary would have been removed following the correct classification of the sample from 2013.”

Mr Gittins is due to hold a full inquest into Mrs Jones death and said he would be seeking reassurances from BCUHB that 'investigations and processes had taken place subsequently to make sure there is no similar cases and the risk of recurrence has diminished.'

Louis Browne, QC, representing her family said that the coroner should examine the full circumstances leading up to Mrs Jones' 2013 surgery. He said: “Something went seriously wrong and acknowledging what went wrong is only part of the picture.

“The evidence appears to show that there was no system in place at BCUHB at the time for follow up in cases like Catherine's and, in our submission, the public are entitled to know about that and potentially if there are failings that need to be brought to light and lessons learned. Your inquiry is the only means by which that will be done.“

Mr Browne pointed out that the hospital maintained that the 2013 biopsy slides had been reviewed twice since Mrs Jones' death and both times they insisted there was 'no malignancy.' However, a review by expert witnesses had revealed otherwise.

He added: “If there had been an investigation that was slipshod it is right that that is investigated by you and lessons are learned from it.”

BCUHB has been in special measures, under the direct control of the Labour-run Welsh Government, for six years, but has struggled to improve. During that period waiting times for operations have risen and debts soared to more than £40m.

The board has also struggled to attract GPs and there are staff shortages in several specialisms, while spending on agency nurses has topped £1m a month.