Expert Lawyers Back Family’s Calls For Apology Over ‘Unnecessary’ Death
By Helen MacGregor
The heartbroken husband of a mum-of-three, who died of lung cancer despite visiting her GP surgery 10 times complaining of tell-tale symptoms, has spoken of his anger at receiving no apology for the family’s loss.
Over a two-year period, Grandmother-of-eleven Sandra Martin made repeated complaints to five doctors and two nurses about her persistent cough, but she was ‘fobbed off’ with antibiotics and told to ‘suck ice cubes’. It was not until she insisted on having a chest X-ray in March 2008 that advanced lung cancer was finally diagnosed.
Despite months of intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy, the cancer was too far advanced and Sandra, from Yate in South Gloucestershire, died aged 64 in October 2011 from a lung infection caused by her weakened immune system from the cancer treatment.
Determined to find answers about whether more could have been done to help his wife, husband Robert vowed to continue the battle for justice Sandra started with lawyers at Irwin Mitchell shortly after she was diagnosed.
The NHS currently recommends patients visit their GP if suffering a persistent cough for over three weeks, which Sandra did. The advice to GPs is that they should then refer patients for chest X-rays for persistent unexplained coughs but it took two years and an insistence by Sandra for this to happen.
Sandra first visited her GP Dr Prakash Ahuja at West Walk Surgery in Yate, in April 2006, complaining of a cough that had lasted for four months. She was examined, told everything looked fine and given antibiotics to treat a chest infection. She saw the same GP again the following month when her cough had not improved, yet she was sent away with no further treatment.
Expert medical evidence commissioned by Irwin Mitchell found that had Sandra been referred for a chest X-ray at either of these appointments, or at any point before December 2006, she would have had surgery to remove the tumour. She would also not have needed chemotherapy or radiotherapy and she would have made a full recovery and be able to return to her normal activities within four to six months.
But despite this evidence, Dr Ahuja, who saw Sandra twice within a month, refused to admit any responsibility, instead forcing Sandra’s family to prepare for the case to go to trial in Court.
He agreed to settle the case for an undisclosed settlement without an admission, just six weeks before the trial was due to begin and five years after Sandra had first instructed lawyers. But the family say they cannot begin to move forward without an apology and sufficient proof that lessons have been learnt from the mistakes that were made.
Julie Lewis, a Partner and medical law expert from Irwin Mitchell’s Bristol office representing the family, said: “Sandra’s family have been left devastated by their loss and they were determined to continue the battle for justice Sandra started with us before she sadly died.
“NHS guidelines are in place for a reason – to protect the safety of patients – and for a GP to completely disregard these is both shocking and deeply worrying.
“Our expert medical evidence found that had the guidelines relating to persistent coughs been followed with Sandra, she would most probably still be alive today.
“While the settlement compensates the family for the treatment and care for Sandra that they paid for and it draws a line under the legal proceedings, we continue to support the family in their calls for an apology for their loss. We are also very keen to see that any lessons that can be learnt are shared throughout GP surgeries and the NHS to prevent any further unnecessary deaths.”
Robert, 66, a property developer, added: “Sandra was very active and healthy and we had a long, happy retirement planned which we hoped would see us move out to our second home in Spain and have the children and grandchildren regularly visit.
“When she began suffering with the cough she knew something wasn’t right but when her GP reassured her it was nothing serious we had faith in his expertise.
“As the months passed and the cough got worse we did become frustrated as it felt like Sandra was being fobbed off, particularly when she was told to suck ice cubes. In the end she felt so poorly that she had to insist that she have a chest X-ray as she knew her own body and knew something was not right.
“When we were told the diagnosis we were absolutely devastated. Because the cancer was so far advanced Sandra needed treatment immediately. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy did shrink the tumour and she had an operation to remove it in Spain which we paid for privately because it could be carried out quicker than on the NHS. We knew time was of the essence.
“However the cancer returned in 2010 and we were told this time it was definitely terminal. Sandra was determined to fight it as long as possible and had further treatment but her immune system was so weak she died of pneumonia in October 2011.
“Sandra was determined to get answers about what had gone wrong and instructed Irwin Mitchell not long after her diagnosis. After she died we vowed to continue her battle for justice.
“We are very disappointed that it has taken five years because of the GP’s refusal to co-operate. Without an apology or recognition that mistakes were made with Sandra’s care that have since been learnt from, the settlement means very little.
“We just hope that by taking legal action and making other’s aware of Sandra’s case that it leads to greater care being taken to follow NHS guidelines. My hope is that no other families have to go through the disastrous, painful times we all endured.”
Dr Prakash Ahuja agreed to pay a settlement without admitting any liability. The other medical staff who Sandra saw made no admissions of liability and a case was not pursued against them.
Timeline of GP visits:
18 April 2006 – Sandra visited Dr Prakash Ahuja complaining of a cough she had been suffering for four months. He prescribed cough medicine.
12 May 2006 – Sandra returned to Dr Ahuja as the cough had not improved and he put it down to the fact she had changed her cholesterol tablets.
17 May 2006 – She returned again as there had still been no improvement and she was given antibiotics by a different GP.
December 2006 – Sandra returned to the surgery and saw another GP as the cough was getting worse and she was now breathless.
October 2007 – Still no improvement so Sandra saw a GP who examined her and reassured all was fine.
5 November 2007 – Sandra visited the surgery and told a doctor the cough was now so bad it was keeping her awake at night. He said to return in a few days to discuss the symptoms further.
9 November 2007 – Sandra returned to the surgery and was examined. She was told her chest was clear but given more antibiotics.
End of November 2007 – Sandra was told that the cough was viral. Again, she was examined and told her chest was clear.
21 February 2008 – Sandra visited the surgery because there was no improvement and she was coughing up yellow phlegm. A GP advised she should suck on ice cubes.
March 2008 – Sandra returned from a holiday to Egypt and demanded a chest X-ray because she was so poorly while away.
3 April 2008 – Sandra had the chest X-ray which confirmed lung cancer.
If you have suffered due to misdiagnosed lung cancer or a delayed lung cancer diagnosis, 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.