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Chatham woman Fay Harryman is taking legal action against Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust after doctors 'missed cancer signs'

By Jenni Horn

A woman diagnosed with terminal cancer after hospital staff failed to recognise abnormalities in a routine smear test has spoken out about the "appalling mistakes" in her care.

Fay Harryman, 29, from Chatham, underwent a cervical smear in April 2009 which was analysed at the University Hospital in Lewisham, where she was told it showed no abnormalities.

However, within months she started suffering bladder problems and abnormal bleeding, and an MRI scan in November 2010 showed a large tumour on her cervix.

Fay Harryman has terminal cervical cancer

Fay has now been told her cancer has returned, spreading to her lymph nodes, and treatment will only prolong her life rather than cure her.

She said: "To be told at the age of 25 that cancer treatment has left you infertile is devastating enough, but to now be told treatment can only prolong my life rather than cure me is almost impossible to comprehend.

“I had always wanted children but the first course of treatment led to me suffering a premature menopause.

"My boyfriend and I then planned to have children via a surrogacy route in America but I was rejected for funding on the NHS and now my cancer has returned it is not something I can continue to pursue.

“My boyfriend and family have been amazing and I want to thank them for all the support they have provided.

“It’s very hard not to be bitter or angry as I now know that if my smear test had been correctly interpreted in 2009, the last five years would have been very different and I would probably have a future to look to now."

Fay and her boyfriend

Fay has instructed medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell to investigate whether more could have been done to detect and treat her cancer sooner.

Lawyers found Lewisham Healthcare NHS Trust failed to detect abnormal cells in the smear test taken in April 2009, incorrectly reported the smear as ‘normal’ and recommended a standard recall in three years.

The firm is claiming that, had the test been correctly reported as showing abnormalities, further testing would have been recommended within four weeks.

This would most likely have confirmed cancerous cells and Fay could have been sent for immediate treatment to remove them, preventing the cancer from spreading.

The Trust has admitted liability for the failure to detect and report the cancerous cells, but continues to dispute how the failures contributed to the cancer returning and whether it would have saved her life.

Fay’s legal team at Irwin Mitchell has now started court proceedings in the hope of quickly reaching a settlement to fund her ongoing treatment costs and cover her loss of earnings.

Fay Harryman went for a routine cervical smear in April 2009

Victoria Walne, a medical law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s London office representing her, said: “This is a tragic case - Fay is not yet 30 but has been left with terminal cervical cancer and unable to have children.

“Whilst the Trust has admitted liability for its failings relating to interpreting and reporting the smear results, we believe it also needs to give answers about how it was possible for these failures to happen and confirm what steps have been taken to ensure the same, frankly appalling mistakes, can never happen again.

“We hope the Trust will now work with us to provide this information to Fay but also quickly agree a settlement that will fund her ongoing care costs and cover her loss of earnings as she is unable to return to her previous job.”

Fay added: "There have been numerous campaigns in my lifetime about the importance of attending regular smear tests and how early detection saves lives.

A close-up of cervical cancer cells. Picture: Thinkstock

"When you follow these guidelines, you expect the NHS to correctly play its part in keeping you safe, but sadly my care fell well short of this."

"To be told at the age of 25 that cancer treatment has left you infertile is devastating enough, but to now be told treatment can only prolong my life... is almost impossible to comprehend" - Fay Harriman

“Nothing can turn back the clock, but I feel that I deserve to know why it was possible for my smear test to be interpreted incorrectly and it would give me some small peace of mind to know that lessons have been learned throughout the NHS to prevent anyone else having to go through the same unnecessary nightmare as me.”

A spokesman for Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust said: "We are extremely sorry for the failure to detect abnormal cells following Fay Harryman’s smear test in 2009.

“Whilst our processes for analysing and reporting smears met national guidelines, we did review them and have made improvements.

"This includes ensuring that we carry out additional reviews of smear tests when necessary.

“As legal proceedings are ongoing, we cannot comment further at this time.”

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