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Delayed Diagnosis of Gallbladder Cancer

16 February 2018

We acted on behalf of Ms M’s estate following a hospital’s failure to diagnose gallbladder cancer. Ms M had been unwell and was eventually admitted to hospital for the removal of gallstones and her gallbladder. In line with usual procedure, a specimen was taken and sent to the pathology lab for testing. Ms M was advised that the surgery had been a success and her physical problems were not expected to reoccur. She was therefore discharged from hospital.

In fact, the histology report revealed that Ms M had cancer of the gallbladder which had spread to her liver. The histology report was sent to the surgeon and the cancer team, but they failed to act upon it. Consequently, Ms M was unaware of her diagnosis and no follow up treatment was arranged.

After the procedure, she continued experiencing symptoms of abdominal pain and severe constipation. After around five months, her problems became so serious that she went to A&E. It wasn’t until then that the hospital picked up on the histology report showing the cancer diagnosis. By this time, Ms M had stopped working because she was too unwell. She underwent chemotherapy but sadly did not survive.

The Hospital Trust conducted a Serious Incident Investigation Report which recognised the administrative error. Whilst there appeared to be a clear indication of negligence, cancer misdiagnosis cases are notoriously difficult to prove. It must be shown that had the hospital acted as it should have done, the outcome would have been different for Ms M. It is often the case that the cancer is so aggressive by the time of diagnosis that prompt diagnosis and treatment will not make any difference to the outcome. In such cases, even though the hospital’s treatment may fall below an acceptable standard, there will not be negligence.

We obtained expert evidence from an oncologist who determined that the cancer was so aggressive in this case that Ms M would not have been able to survive it, however, the delay in diagnosis and treatment resulted in an additional period of pain and suffering. We achieved a five figure compensation sum early on in the claim.

By Natalie Hirst

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