Dedicated nurse, 49, dies from cervical cancer after NHS colleagues fail to spot the disease for three years – and her family now fear other women are at risk
- Julie O’Connor, 49, died in February after her condition was missed several times
- Medics at Bristol’s Southmead Hospital initially said she had cervical ectropion
- By the time the mother-of-two’s cancer was found it was already terminal
- North Bristol NHS Trust admitted liability and offered monetary compensation
- Now, Ms O’Connor’s relatives want a thorough investigation into the errors
The grieving family of a dedicated nurse are calling for a hospital-wide cervical cancer inquiry after NHS doctors failed to spot the deadly condition.
Mother-of-two Julie O’Connor, 49, from Bristol, died earlier this month – on February 4 – after repeatedly being given the all-clear by medics at Bristol’s Southmead Hospital.
Mrs O’Connor had been referred repeatedly over irregular periods and then constant bleeding.
While on a waiting list for another test known as a cervical ablation, where cells are burned off the womb, Mrs O’Connor opted to make use of her private healthcare and saw a consultant who immediately diagnosed cervical cancer.
‘He told me the growth was 4.5cm. I was horrified,’ she said at the time.
Julie was told she had stage two cervical cancer at the Spire after just two days, despite three years of visits to the hospital.
The O’Connor family (Julie, Kevin and their two children) were devastated by the cancer diagnosis after the hospital said it was something else
Misdiagnosed: Kevin O’Connor (right) and his wife Julie, who died of cancer earlier this month
Mrs O’Connor (pictured with her daughter) was insisting she needed more tests but was ignored as she was misdiagnosed
Her cancer had grown beyond the cervix and uterus. The family sued North Bristol NHS Trust which admitted liability and offered damages.
Now, her relatives are warning that other women may also have received false ‘negative’ results.
Initially, doctors at Southmead said Ms O’Connor was suffering from cervical ectropion: a condition which causes cells from inside the cervix to form a red, inflamed patch on the outside of the lower uterus.
By the time the cervical cancer was eventually found it was terminal.
The family subsequently sued North Bristol NHS Trust, which admitted liability and offered monetary compensation.
They also confirmed that an independent review would look into her care this month.
However, Ms O’Connor’s family want the investigation to be further-reaching and to help others.
Her husband Kevin, from Thornbury, said he believed other cases of cervical cancer in women may have been missed.
‘One of the last things Julie said was that she didn’t want to happen this to anybody else,’ he told the BBC.
Too late: Ms O’Connor was finally given a correct diagnosis when assessed privately, some three years after her initial smear test in 2014
North Bristol NHS Trust later admitted liability and offered monetary compensation, but now the family fear other women may also be at risk
‘I’ve asked the coroners if they would consider an inquiry, not just into Julie’s care but back to 2014 to be sure this doesn’t have to happen to anyone else and if there are other victims.’
Before moving back to the UK the family lived in Germany for ten years where women have smear tests every 12 months.
North Bristol NHS Trust Medical Director, Dr Chris Burton, said: ‘We are extremely sorry to hear that Mrs O’Connor has died; we have her family in our thoughts at this very difficult time and we send our deepest condolences.
‘We are committed to understanding the full circumstances of the care we provided so we can improve our services for the future, and we will be publically open with the overall findings of the independent investigation we have commissioned.
‘I have met with Mr O’Connor and will remain in contact with him.’
WHAT IS CERVICAL CANCER? AND HOW DOES OBESITY CAUSE THE DISEASE?
Cervical cancer affects the lining of the lower part of womb.
The most common symptom is unusual bleeding, such as between periods, during sex or after the menopause, but other signs can include:
- Pain during sex
- Vaginal discharge that smells unpleasant
- Pain in the pelvis
Being overweight or obese can double a woman’s risk of cervical cancer, research suggests.
This is due to excessive fat leading to higher levels of the hormone oestrogen, which is associated with the disease.
Other causes can include:
- Age – more than half of sufferers are under 45
- HPV infection – which affects most people at some point in their lives
- Smoking – responsible for 21 per cent of cases
- Contraceptive pill – linked to 10 per cent of cases
- Having children
- Family history of cervical or other types of cancer, like vagina and kidney
In the UK, the NHS invites women aged between 25 and 64 for cervical screening, known as smear tests, every three-to-four years.
This aims to pick up abnormal cells that could lead to cancer if left untreated and saves at least 2,000 cervical cancer deaths a year in the UK.
These abnormal cells can be destroyed by methods such as laser therapy or freezing treatment.
Since 2008, girls aged 12-to-13 have been offered an HPV vaccine, which protects against more than 70 per cent of cervical cancers.
If diagnosed, treatment depends on where the cancer is, if it has spread and the patient’s general health.
Surgery may be required, which usually removes the womb and cervix. Enough can sometimes be left so a woman can still get pregnant.
In more advanced cases, a combination of chemo, radiotherapy and surgery may be required.
Source: Cancer Research UK