Mother forced to take early retirement from NHS after negligence leads to terminal cancer diagnosis

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Sarah Roch, aged 43 and a mother of 2 children from Plymouth, was forced to take early retirement from her beloved career in a clinical job in the NHS at Derriford Hospital due to significant health challenges. She is now urging women to be vigilant about their bodies and to seek a second opinion if they have doubts about their medical care.

The call comes following Sarah’s own experience in a significant medical negligence case against the Trust who manage Derriford Hospital, where she was both an employee and a patient. The claim concerned an admitted failure to identify abnormal pre-cancer cells on a smear/cervical biopsy, which tragically resulted in Sarah developing incurable cervical cancer. Sarah, who will have chemotherapy every three weeks for the rest of her life, is now determined to use her experience to empower other women and raise awareness about the importance of advocating for one’s health.

Sarah’s harrowing journey began in 2010 when she first received abnormal smear test results. Over subsequent years, including 2011 and 2012, Sarah underwent follow-up tests due to persistent abnormalities. Despite these red flags, her condition was not appropriately investigated or treated.

In May 2013, Sarah underwent another smear test and was subsequently referred to the colposcopy clinic for further evaluation. Biopsies were taken in June 2013, but tragically, medical professionals failed to identify the presence of abnormal cells. She was reassured that everything had returned back to normal.

By 2016, Sarah’s health began to deteriorate significantly. She experienced symptoms such as bloating, indigestion, and bleeding after sexual intercourse. These warning signs were repeatedly dismissed by healthcare providers, attributing her distress to constipation and providing inadequate explanations for her worsening condition.

Despite persistent symptoms and escalating concerns, Sarah’s diagnosis was repeatedly overlooked. Medical consultations in December 2017 and subsequent visits failed to identify the underlying cervical cancer, leaving Sarah increasingly anxious and desperate for answers.

It wasn’t until late 2019, after enduring years of suffering and persistent symptoms, that Sarah was incidentally diagnosed with Stage 2b cervical cancer following a hysterectomy that she has insisted on having, despite her doctors advising against it. By this time, the cancer had metastasised, necessitating aggressive treatments including chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and multiple extensive surgeries. Sadly, none of these treatments have cured her of her disease.

The Hospital Trust has admitted liability for incorrectly interpreting the samples taken from Sarah’s cervix in June 2013. This critical error deprived Sarah of the opportunity for early intervention, preventing the development of invasive cervical cancer and sparing her from extensive medical treatments.

A settlement was reached on 18 March 2024, acknowledging the profound impact on Sarah’s life and her limited life expectancy due to the negligence. In response to this case, the Hospital Trust has implemented changes to improve diagnostic accuracy and prevent similar errors in the future.

These changes include:

  • Ensuring accurate reporting and interpretation of histopathology results.
  • Implementing regular education sessions to discuss challenging cases and ensure consistent diagnosis and grading of lesions.
  • Requiring dual examination of slides by pathologists in cases involving cervical glandular lesions.

Sarah said: “I want women to be aware of their bodies and to trust their instincts. If women have unexplained vaginal bleeding, leaking or discharge or pain and discomfort in their stomach, womb or lower back and pelvis, get checked out. If something doesn’t feel right, please speak up and seek further investigation. No one should go through what I’ve experienced.

Ceri-Ann Taylor, the specialist clinical negligence solicitor at Enable Law that supported Sarah, concluded:  “Sarah’s case underscores the critical need for accurate and timely diagnosis in women’s healthcare. There were multiple missed opportunities by the NHS. If Sarah’s pre-cancerous cells had been recognised and treated she would not have gone on to develop cervical cancer at all, and would have a normal life expectancy.  Instead, her life will be cut very short, and she will leave behind her much loved family. By sharing Sarah’s story, we hope to prevent future tragedies and ensure that patients receive the care they deserve.”

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