A hospital’s delay in diagnosing lung cancer that led to the death of a Leeds woman has finally resulted in an out of court settlement with her husband.

Barbara Smith, who died in June 2007 aged just 57, had been told two years earlier of a nodule on her lung. Mrs Smith, who had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for 25 years, was advised by her consultants at St James University Hospital in Leeds that monitoring her condition via x-rays was the best option.

However, despite numerous chest x-rays and regular hospital appointments for her arthritis, Mrs Smith’s doctors failed to spot changes to her lung until she reported increasing pain. It became apparent, on investigation, that Mrs Smith’s x-rays had either been misplaced or lost over this period, therefore comparisons were not possible.

She was finally diagnosed with lung cancer in March 2007 and died just three months later. As part of the tests Mrs Smith was undergoing to determine the spread, it was discovered she had a perforated bowel. She was told before the operation that this probably happened four/five days before. This coincided with her being in St James’ Accident and Emergency department with severe pains in her lower abdomen. Again on investigation, records of this admission have been lost. All of this contributed considerably to her distress.

Critical treatment was delayed

Commenting on the settlement with Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Mr Smith from Rothwell said: “If this settlement ensures that the hospital doesn’t do this to another family I will have achieved what I set out to do. Reconciling myself to having lost my wife is hard enough but knowing that her condition could have been treated far earlier and that she suffered from an undiagnosed perforated bowel has made the grieving for me and my family far harder.”

“Medical evidence suggests that earlier diagnosis of Mrs Smith’s cancer would not have made a difference to her life expectancy,” said Sian Thompson from Thompsons Solicitors, who handled the clinical negligence case on Mr Smith’s behalf. “However, her quality of life could have been far better and her family would have had more time to come to terms with what was inevitable.

“It is unacceptable that, just because Mrs Smith had a variety of health issues, critical treatment was delayed. The hospital’s monitoring systems clearly failed.

“We hope that Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust has learnt from Mr and Mrs Smith’s experiences, and that medical staff have improved their monitoring of systems to avoid putting any other family through what the Smiths had to endure”.

Mr Smith has since had a letter of apology from The Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust regarding the treatment Mrs Smith received.