Cancer Misdiagnosis Led To Pensioner Wrongly Losing Her Leg

Medical Negligence Compensation

13.10.2009

A West Midlands pensioner, who needlessly had her leg amputated below the knee after a lump on her foot was wrongly diagnosed as cancer, has received a substantial six figure settlement in an out of court compensation payout.

Seventy two year old Doreen Nicholls’ misdiagnosis was made, despite being under the care of a team of world-leading medical specialists. Following an investigation into the error it was revealed that the hospital’s path lab had made a number of similar mistakes in the past and the pensioner’s solicitor is now calling for the hospital to take action and ensure lessons are learned.

Mrs Nicholls from Halesowen, had been referred by her GP to Birmingham’s Royal Orthopaedic Hospital, in August 2007, to investigate a longstanding swelling of her left foot.

A multi-disciplinary team – including orthopaedic, radiology and histology clinicians – met to discuss Mrs Nicholls’ condition. Although the team did not all agree on the same diagnosis, the decision was taken to follow histopathology findings that a needle biopsy showed “features of an aggressive tumour” – a soft tissue cancer, known as a ‘sclerosing epitheliod fibrosarcoma’ (SEF).

Mrs Nicholls was advised that the only safe way to stop the cancer from spreading was a below-the-knee amputation of her left leg and on 10th October 2007 she underwent surgery. It was only after further post-operative histology tests were carried out that it was discovered the swelling was due to a non cancerous condition known as ‘pigmented villo nodular synovitis.’

The seventy-two-year-old former Makro office worker who is married and has two daughters and one grandchild, said: “I put my complete trust in these doctors. When they told me I had cancer and there was no option but to have my leg taken off, I believed it was my only chance of survival. When my surgeon admitted to me afterwards that there was no cancer after all, I was in complete shock - there are no words to properly describe how I felt.”

Although the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust has refused to admit liability, claiming that its clinicians made a ‘well informed diagnosis’ and had acted in the patient’s best interests, it has now agreed to pay Mrs Nicholls an undisclosed substantial six figure out of court settlement.

However, Mrs Nicholl’s incorrect diagnosis is not an isolated case. Back in 1993, the hospital identified a problem with its histopathology department. In a report* published in 2001, clinicians admitted there had been “a worrying increase in apparent errors.” A review was ordered into all cases over the previous 8 years. In all, 1,996 cases were reviewed and errors were found in 87 – of these 54 cases (2.7%) were regarded as sufficiently serious to require a change in patient treatment.

Tim Deeming, a medical negligence expert with Irwin Mitchell solicitors, represented Mrs Nicholls. He commented: “We believe that this hospital completely failed in its duty of care to Mrs Nicholls. This is not the usual story or an error by an inexperienced, junior medic, but of a group of clinical experts – three of them world renowned in their particular fields.

“Independent experts have confirmed that if an open biopsy rather than a needle biopsy had been carried out on Mrs Nicholls’ foot prior to surgery, this would have led to the correct diagnosis.

“Given that not all members of the medical team came to the same conclusion, the question remains why their findings weren’t double checked before they carried out the amputation.

“If Mrs Nicholls’ case had been an isolated incident, this would have been bad enough, but I am extremely concerned that the hospital appears to have learned nothing from the previous errors it identified back in 1993 and has not taken the necessary steps to protect patients from the risks of misdiagnosis.”

As a result of the amputation, Mrs Nicholls finds many everyday activities, that she once took for granted, are no longer possible. She can no longer enjoy her gardening and although she used to keep fit by going swimming each week, she has not been able to face visiting her local pool since losing her leg.

Until recently she has relied upon NHS services. Now that the case has settled she has used some of the money to fund private prosthesis treatment. Her new custom made prosthetic leg, is already proving to be a huge benefit and is at last making her life more bearable.

Mrs Nicholls added: “I’m determined to get on with my life and the compensation will really make a difference, but it cannot undo what’s done and my life will never be the same again.”

If your have suffered due to a delayed cancer diagnosis or a cancer misdiagnosis, our medical negligence lawyers could help you claim compensation. Call 0808 163 4557 for a free initial consultation or see our Cancer Misdiagnosis Claims page for more details.