Lawyers Instructed To Investigate Missed Opportunities After Young Woman Dies From Cervical Cancer

Family Speaks Out To Raise Awareness Of The Importance Of Cervical Screening


Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

The mum of a young woman who died after battling cervical cancer, which she believes could have been picked up by routine smear tests taken in her early 20s, has spoken for the first time of the ‘huge gap’ her daughter’s death has left in the family’s lives.

Rachel Harrison was given the devastating news that she had cervical cancer in July 2009, just months after a dream wedding to long-term partner Peter and as they were hoping to start a family. Despite bravely undergoing extensive treatment, she died nearly three years later on 30 June 2012, aged 31, after developing secondary bowel cancer that spread to her lungs and liver.

Her husband Peter and mum Dianne Crowe, from Hexham in Northumberland, have now instructed medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell to investigate whether more could have been done to detect Rachel’s cancer sooner to prevent it from progressing.

Peter and Dianne believe there were missed opportunities to diagnose pre-cancerous cells when, after her diagnosis, Rachel requested her screening history. This revealed Rachel was put on the wrong pathway for repeat smear tests having had one abnormal smear in 2001 when just 20 years old. When Rachel had a routine smear test in 2007 this was considered ‘difficult’ but was wrongly reported as normal and without any note of Rachel’s previous abnormal smear test.

Michelle Armstrong, a medical law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Newcastle office representing the family, said: “Rachel’s family have been left truly devastated by their loss and understandably are struggling to come to terms with why she died when she was so young, fit and healthy.

“Before she died, Rachel, in the knowledge that she had undergone smear tests, began investigating how it was possible for her to have been diagnosed with advanced cancer when abnormalities should have been picked up earlier by the screening programme.

“We are now continuing those investigations and have evidence of multiple failings in the screening process. Sadly, Rachel’s death is not an isolated tragedy as across Irwin Mitchell we are instructed by many young women who are battling cervical cancer, or families who have lost someone young to the disease, where the screening programme has fallen short.

“We hope that where shortcomings are found, improvements are made and lessons are learnt throughout the NHS about the appropriate pathways for women who have abnormal smear results to ensure they are diagnosed and treated as quickly and effectively as possible, ultimately saving lives.”

Rachel had her first smear at the age of 19, which was reported as inadequate and she was told she needed an early repeat smear test. She had further smears – one in 2001 which was reported as abnormal and another a year later which was normal. Following this, the age for cervical screening moved to 25 and Rachel received no further recalls.

In 2007, when Rachel was 26, she had a further smear test. Although this smear was considered difficult and the original screener and checker had concerns about it, it was reported as being normal and an opportunity to note that Rachel should have had more frequent smears in view of her history was again missed.

In February 2009, after Rachel and Peter married, they began trying for a family but Rachel was experiencing abnormal bleeding. Rachel was referred to a gynaecologist for diagnostic tests and on 31 July 2009 Rachel was given the devastating news she had cervical cancer and was advised to begin urgent treatment of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

After three months Rachel was told the treatment had been successful and despite being in increasing pain and suffering continuing bowel problems, which were believed to have been caused by the treatment, she was determined to get her life back to some normality and decided to return to work.

She also became a group leader of the first support group in the North East for the Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust ( so she could support other sufferers of cervical cancer.

As the months passed, Rachel’s pain was unbearable and on 4 October 2011, after undergoing further tests, she was given the devastating news that she had bowel cancer which was showing signs of spreading to her lungs and liver.

Despite undergoing further intensive chemotherapy and trying to battle the illness, Rachel’s immune system became very weak and on 30 June 2012 she died in Hexham Hospital after contracting a chest infection, leaving her family devastated.

Her mum, Dianne, said: “Rachel has left a huge gap in all of our lives. She was very close to her two sisters, one of whom is disabled after being injured in a car crash 14 years ago and  the grief we and Peter are all feeling is indescribable.

“Her father Paul and I are privileged to have had three such beautiful daughters that have loved and cared for each other but we are struggling to cope with the effect Rachel’s death has had on the dynamic of the family. It is also incredibly difficult to witness Peter trying to rebuild his shattered life – his and Rachel’s hopes and dreams lost, never to be realised.

“I am devastated to have watched Rachel endure a long, painful and debilitating illness. As her mother I need to understand why I had to lose my daughter to a cancer, which with appropriate screening, should be caught at a time when it is curable. We are also concerned that when Rachel was given her screening history, it appeared that there were missed opportunities to recall her sooner.”

Dianne added: “Nothing can bring Rachel back, but I hope that by speaking about what she went through it raises awareness of just how vital it is that young women attend their screening appointments, as well as how vital it is that the screens are investigated and reported accurately to ensure no one falls through the net. In addition, to remind all young girls who have had the HPV vaccine that they still need to attend for their cervical screening when invited, as the vaccine does not protect from all HPV types.

“I would also like to raise awareness of the fantastic work Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust does in both promoting the need for smear test screening and also helping women battling cervical cancer – Rachel was very passionate about helping others who were in a similar position to her and the support group gave her renewed purpose and a place to speak about everything she was going through with others who understood. It was truly invaluable.”

This week (21 to 31 January) is National Cervical Cancer Prevention Week organised by charity Jo's Trust.

Rebecca Shoosmith, Head of Services at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “Rachel was an incredibly fun, caring, passionate and committed volunteer who helped to launch the charity’s first local support group in the UK. Together with her co-leader she created a safe and supportive environment for those faced with a diagnosis of cervical cancer and the group was devastated by her recurrence and death. Her legacy as a volunteer is very much alive in the group which continues to offer vital support to women in the area.”

If you have suffered due to a delayed cervical cancer diagnosis or misdiagnosed cervical cancer, 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.