Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust is to pay compensation to a nurse from Huntingdon after a Breast Screening Service failed to detect her cancer. The compensation was secured with the support of leading personal injury specialists Thompsons Solicitors.

Ann Morris is a nurse and in September 2002 she was called for routine screening for breast cancer, offered to all women in England over 50. Mammograms (breast X-rays) were taken at a mobile unit in the Tesco car park in Newmarket and she heard no more and took it that all was well.

Mrs Morris explains: “In September 2004, two years after I had the mammogram, I went to my doctor concerned about a breast lump. After being referred to hospital I learned that it was cancer both in the breast and lymph nodes. I also learned that the 2002 mammograms had now been reviewed and that they showed early cancer then. I realise now, too late, that you simply cannot assume that no news is good news when you have health tests.”

Mammograms showed cancer which was missed

The reports on the 2002 mammograms have never been found, and it was assumed that they were never looked at by a radiologist. No explanation was given until Mrs Morris insisted on getting one as part of the settlement deal. Somewhat to her surprise she was told that they had been read by two radiologists, who had passed them (wrongly) as normal, though they did not report this to her or her doctor.

Mrs Morris then had treatment for her cancer: a mastectomy, six months of chemotherapy, and a month’s radiotherapy. She returned to work on the wards in November 2005. But in January 2007 she was diagnosed with secondary cancer in the bone and liver, and despite repeated sessions of chemotherapy to limit the damage her current life expectancy is now very limited (between 6 and 54 months).

Mrs Morris instructed Thompsons Solicitors. A detailed letter of claim was sent to Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, who run the Breast Screening Service, in July 2007. When the Trust did not respond, court proceedings were served in November 2007. The Trust did not file a Defence to the claim, and in February 2008 the court entered Judgment for Mrs Morris. A date was set to assess compensation for 14 August 2008.

Shortly before that date a substantial settlement was reached.

Compensation used to pay for care

Mrs Morris continues: “My former husband and two sons live in the US. My former husband returned to England to look after me during my first six months of treatment, and since then I have relied extensively on friends and former colleagues for help in my illness. Now the compensation can be used to pay for the care I need. I also wanted to make sure the legal action would get the system changed so this mistake could not happen again to someone else, because when it happened I was not told what had gone wrong or why.”

Representing Mrs Morris, Sarah Goodman from Thompsons Solicitors in Birmingham, comments: “This case has been unusual for the reluctance of the breast screening service to say what happened. From the outset Mrs Morris wanted to have some explanation of what went wrong, and some reassurance that the system had been changed so that this could not happen again to someone else. Even after compensation was agreed, the Trust held out against providing this, and only gave an explanation nearly four years after the mistake came to light, when Mrs Morris made it clear she would not settle her claim without one.”

“They say they are now monitoring individual performance and trying to see that radiologists get relevant experience, and also that they have a new computer system for emailing results to the doctors. Humans err, but that errors like this happen with such disastrous outcomes does raise questions about the system in place.”

This news story was also published by Cambridge News Online.