Family And Medical Negligence Lawyers Speak Out After Hospital Trust Admits Liability
A widower is calling for lessons to be learned after his wife died from cancer following a three-year diagnosis delay.
Michelle Varney, a GP practice manager, died aged 63 in June 2020 as a result of lung cancer which had been diagnosed in February of that year.
The mum-of-one from Handsworth, Sheffield, had undergone a CT scan of her abdomen, kidneys and lungs, at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in August 2016. She had previously been admitted to hospital with suspected diverticulitis – inflammation of the bowel.
Mum not referred to lung cancer specialists
The scan detected a lesion and two nodules in her right lung as well as a kidney cyst. The results were not referred to lung specialists despite a radiologist’s recommendation. Michelle continued to be monitored for her cyst for two years until September 2018.
Michelle was referred to hospital in 2020 by a GP after complaining of weight loss, fatigue and hip and shoulder pain. When she was diagnosed, doctors found the cancer had spread and was not curable.
Medical negligence lawyers investigate Sheffield mum's cancer death
Following Michelle’s death her family, including husband, Gary, 66, instructed expert medical negligence lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate her care under Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the Royal Hallamshire.
The Trust admitted liability. It admitted there was a delay in appropriately referring Michelle to lung specialists. If she had been referred in 2016 further tests would have been carried out and it is likely Michelle would have been diagnosed that year. With treatment, on the balance of probabilities, Michelle would have had at least a five year survival rate in the region of 90 per cent, the Trust acknowledged.
Inquest finds Michelle Varney died as result of 'neglect'
An inquest at Sheffield’s Medico-Legal Centre found there were ‘missed opportunities’ between August 2016 and September 2018 to review the scan and refer Michelle to lung specialists. If she had been referred, given the size of the lesion and her general good health, it is likely treatment would have been ‘curative’.
As a result Michelle’s death from natural causes was as “result of neglect,” assistant coroner Tanyka Rawden concluded.
Expert Opinion“Gary and the rest of the family are devastated by Michelle’s death and the circumstances surrounding it. What’s of particular concern to them is how Michelle continued to be under the care of Trust for two years but was never referred to lung specialists as her cancer developed.
“Nothing can make up for the pain and suffering Michelle’s family continue to experience but we’re pleased that we’ve at least been able to provide them with the answers they deserve.
“While worrying failures have been admitted in this case it’s vital people don’t lose confidence in the NHS. If people are concerned about their symptoms they should seek medical advice at the earliest opportunity.
“We continue to support Michelle’s family at this distressing time to help them try and come to terms with what’s happened the best they can.
“We also call on the Trust to ensure all lessons can be learned from what happened to Michelle to improve patient care. Early detection and treatment are key to beating cancer.” Rosie Charlton - Senior Associate Solicitor
Medical negligence: Michelle's story
Michelle, who has a daughter Olivia, had been admitted to the Northern General Hospital, also run by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, on 30 May, 2016 with suspected diverticulitis. A scan revealed a large cyst in her left kidney with bleeding.
She was discharged and referred to the urology team at the Royal Hallamshire. Michelle was reviewed on 17 June, 2016, and a follow up CT scan was arranged for 5 August. A radiologist recommended Michelle be referred to lung specialists for a review but this did not happen.
She remained under the care of urology. A scan in September 2016 found the bleeding on the kidney had almost disappeared. She attended two further annual reviews and was discharged from urology in September 2018.
Following her cancer diagnosis in February 2020 Michelle was told that the cancer had been visible on the CT scan in 2016, a serious incident report by the Trust said.
Michelle's family want lessons learned to help others
Gary said: “At no point during the time Michelle was under the care of the doctors were we given the impression that there was anything particularly concerning to worry about. However, she’d undergone tests and scans and nobody ever mentioned cancer could be a possibility.
“But that all changed when Michelle started losing weight and the pain developed. From there it felt like everything moved so quickly. We were trying to come to terms with how advanced the cancer was when we were told there were signs of it on her scan in 2016.
“Trying to come to terms with Michelle’s diagnosis was, and remains, particularly difficult to accept. Despite everything she went through in the last months of her life she fought the cancer with courage and bravery.
“Michelle was an incredible wife and mum. She was such a kind, generous and loving person and her death has left a huge void in so many people’s lives.
“She went out of her way to help others. It’s difficult to think that Michelle would still be with us if she received the care and treatment she should have.
“Michelle had worked for the NHS for 37 years and she was one of its greatest advocates. We just hope that by speaking out Michelle’s legacy can live on by helping to ensure patients receive the best care possible so others don’t have to go through what we have.”
Find out more about our expertise in supporting people and families following a cancer diagnosis at our dedicated cancer claims section. Alternatively to speak to an expert contact us or call 0370 1500 100.