The United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS) has apologized to a family whose daughter died from cervical cancer. Her condition went untreated because her symptoms were mistaken for IBS. She was finally diagnosed with cancer one day before she died. The coroner called the case one of the most ‘shocking and traumatic’ she has ever handled.
Woman Diagnosed With Cervical Cancer After Being Told It’s Just IBS
Twenty-seven-year-old Porsche McGregor-Sims passed away at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth on April 14, 2020. By that time, the “aggressive cancer” had reached her lungs and caused respiratory issues before she suffered a heart attack. An inquest revealed that her GP had referred her to the hospital after she suffered from abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding, four months before her death, in December 2019.
On January 24, 2020, McGregor-Sims met with locum gynecologist Dr. Peter Schlesinger. He informed her that the symptoms could be a result of irritable bowel syndrome or from her stopping her birth control. He dismissed the possibility of cancer since she had a smear test in 2017; although it found no cancerous cells, abnormal cells were present, but no action followed that. In court, Schlesinger, 71, explained he didn’t think a physical examination was “needed”. However, after the appointment, McGregor-Sims had complained he “hadn’t listened” and had “talked over her”. In March, she had two phone consultations where she was prescribed antibiotics for her feeling “short of breath.” 
In early April, she attended further examinations when cervical cancer became suspect. On April 9, she got a referral to the oncology department. On April 13, she went to the hospital with severe breathing issues from the cancer and died one day later. McGregor-Sims was an events manager and aspiring model, engaged to her fiance.
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“We didn’t even know it was cancer”
At the inquest, doctors said Schlesinger should have properly examined McGregor-Sims. If her cancer was found, she could have possibly lived for several more months. The family added that McGregor-Sims had requested a second opinion in January because she felt “not listened to” and they said it was “very out of character for her to complain.” 
In a court statement, the family said: “None of us, including Porsche, thought that she would not make it out of hospital on April 13. We didn’t even have a chance to adjust to the knowledge that it was stage four cancer and therefore we were not going to have much time. Every step of the way she was being told it was IBS, and from what we can see, nobody was entertaining it (the idea that it could have been cancer). You can’t have come to terms that she was going to go to hospital and come out in a body bag because we didn’t even know it was cancer. There’s no way we could have prepared for it.”
Dr. Claire Burton, a consultant gynecologist at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, apologized for the care McGregor-Sims had received.
“If [Dr Scheslinger] had examined her [in late January] then she would have been referred for a colposcopy more quickly, where diagnosis would have been made. I would like to express our condolences to Porsche’s family and friends, and to apologize for the care she had here.”
Diagnosed Just Before Death
After the inquest, Area Coroner Rosamund Rhodes-Kemp said an earlier diagnosis would not have saved McGregor-Sims, but it would have spared her family the “shock and trauma” about founding out just before her death. As she told the court, “It’s not clear that a referral in January would have altered the tragic outcome, but an earlier diagnosis would have allowed more time for her and her family to prepare themselves.”
She added that the mass was detected on April 6 after a CT scan and PET scan, but the patient and family didn’t get a chance to learn about it. “The appointment planned for a detailed discussion of these issues with the family was due on April 13. This meant that the family and Porsche were unaware of the details of the cancer diagnosis and the severity.”
The coroner stated she‘d write a “letter of concern” to the trust. In turn, Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust reviewed protocols, which led to the decision not to employ any locum doctors moving forward and to instead employ in-house consultants. Meanwhile, other patients seen by Schlesinger will get consultations with other doctors. 
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