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‘Prevent Needless Suffering’ Pleads Terminally Ill Cancer Victim

Lawyer Calls For Regular Assessment Of Doctors Skills


A terminally ill Warrington woman is calling on the NHS to prevent future needless pain and suffering by regularly checking GPs are fit to practice after a mistake by her doctor delayed her crucial cancer treatment

Karen Wilkinson, from Moore in Warrington – who has already beaten breast cancer once - contacted medical negligence experts at Irwin Mitchell for help after her GP failed to refer her for a vital chest x-ray that could have led to her diagnosis months earlier and spared her months of painful, avoidable treatment.

Following her diagnosis in November 2008, 45-year-old Karen called on medical negligence experts at Irwin Mitchell for help and has today spoken out saying that, although no amount of money will ever make up for her delay in treatment, she can now spend her precious time with her family knowing that justice has been done. 

Sharon Williams, a medical law expert at Irwin Mitchell has helped Karen in her battle for justice. She said that though the delays would not have changed the tragic outcome it would have saved Karen months of pain and misery. Earlier this month she secured the mum of two an out of court settlement from the Medical Defence Union (MDU) who represented Karen’s GP.

In their response to the action brought against their member, the MDU accepted there was a failure to refer Karen for a chest x-ray in May or June 2008, which could have led to earlier diagnosis of her secondary cancer and prevented Karen’s chest symptoms from progressing to such an extent.

Sharon says: “Although having her cancer treatment earlier would not have changed the outcome for Karen - tragically the cancer could not have been cured – an earlier diagnosis would have significantly reduced her suffering.

“By the time a plural effusion (fluid on her lung) was diagnosed in November 2008, she had to endure a long and painful procedure to drain it due to significant build up of fluid over the months. Further, had the effusion been carried out earlier, the cancer could have been diagnosed sooner, and Karen’s chemotherapy would not have been significantly delayed.”

Brave Karen, who first beat breast cancer in 2001, grew concerned about her health when she began to have trouble breathing in December 2007. Over the next few months she made repeated visits to her doctors in Stockton Heath, Warrington, as the symptoms persisted, but after series of tests including a chest x ray at Warrington Hospital in January 2008 she was given the all clear.

But she continued to suffer breathing difficulties, prompting her to visit her GP a number of times until October 2008 when she was given the devastating news that the breast cancer had returned in November 2008. 

Following her diagnosis, Karen wrote a letter of complaint to her GP surgery highlighting concerns about the treatment she had received and was subsequently sent a letter of apology by her GP, in which she accepted Karen should have been referred for an x-ray.

A subsequent GMC investigation made suggestions regarding the doctor’s future practice saying she must follow and adhere to Good Medical Practice by:

  • adequately assessing a patient's condition – specifically taking into account the history of the patient including symptoms, psychological and social factors, and the patient's views,
  • where necessary examining the patient
  • referring a patient to another practitioner
  • keeping clear and legible records

Commenting on her ordeal, Karen says: “Had I been diagnosed earlier this entire ordeal with have been less painful for me, both physically and emotionally, and for my family who have been so supportive.

“I’m pleased my GP has formally admitted a mistake was made and that the case has settled as I now have the closure I need and can focus my time on my family, knowing that to some extent justice has been done.

“I want to urge the NHS to do everything in its power to check that doctors are regularly assed, and are up to speed with processes they should be following, particularly in relation to people with a history of cancer like me.

“I’d urge people who aren’t happy with the advice and treatment they’re getting from their doctors to please ask more questions, and ask for a second opinion. I don’t want anyone else to suffer like me and my family have.”

Sharon of Irwin Mitchell continues: “To get full closure, Karen’s family need assurances that a tragedy like this won’t happen again and that steps are being taken to regularly assess doctors, throughout their careers, to make sure they’re fit to practice in the interests of patient safety and saving lives.

“So many of the cases we deal with emerge as a result of errors that are avoidable, and it is time that lessons are learnt and that steps are taken to help prevent any further terrible tragedies such as those seen in Karen’s case.”