A former NHS nurse has received compensation after Northampton General Hospital delayed the diagnosis and treatment of her breast cancer.

The 54-year-old UNISON member from Northampton visited her local doctor when she noticed a lump had developed in her right breast. She was urgently referred to the Northampton General Hospital where a newly qualified registrar, who had not been in the post more than six weeks, carried out a mammogram.

Cancer diagnosis given 15 months after initial all-clear

After her scan, the UNISON member was told that she was healthy. Despite the obvious lump on her breast, it failed to show up on the mammogram and so she was given the all clear.

She attempted to return to normality after her cancer scare but 15 months later, when the lump in her breast was still prominent, she went back to her local GP. She was again urgently referred to the Northampton General Hospital for tests, and in July 2009 was screened by a consultant who diagnosed her with breast cancer and she went through radical surgery and cancer therapies.

Early diagnosis crucial

The UNISON member said:

"Working as a nurse myself, specialising in cancer therapies, I was very aware of the importance of early diagnosis of cancer, and how detrimental to a person’s recovery the delay in treatment could be.

"After my first assessment at the Northampton General Hospital, I could not believe how I was treated. I was told, after an anxious wait, that I was fine to go home. The hospital did not write to confirm their prognosis and I didn’t get the chance to speak to the registrar who screened me. I wasn’t offered any peace of mind, but given the trust I have in my profession I believed that what I was told was true.

"I was absolutely devastated 15 months later when I was diagnosed. I felt like my life had been turned upside down and I lost all trust in our healthcare system, despite having worked in it for years."

Mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy

An operation to remove the lump had revealed a second, larger, cancerous lump, which the hospital’s tests had failed to identify.

Both lumps were removed, as well as all of the lymph nodes in her right arm, to which the cancer had spread.

Following the excision of the lumps, she required a mastectomy, which was followed by six cycles of chemotherapy and 15 sessions of radiotherapy. Had the cancer been identified earlier, these traumatic cancer therapies could have been avoided.

Hospital breached duty of care

UNISON instructed Thompsons Solicitors to act on her behalf.

UNISON East Midlands regional secretary, Helen Black, said: “Northampton General Hospital breached its duty of care. Our member could have avoided such a serious course of treatment had the healthcare professionals looking after her followed proper procedures to ensure their diagnosis was correct.”

Sharon Banga, from Thompsons Solicitors, said:

“This clinical negligence case has not only affected our client’s wellbeing but also her ability to work.

"Our investigations revealed that the registrar who initially dismissed our client did not carry out the correct tests to make a proper diagnosis, and our medical experts said that at that time, a second opinion of the results should have been sought.

"The registrar was a mere six weeks into the job, the testing was substandard and Northampton General Hospital should never have allowed inexperienced members of staff to work unsupported when diagnosing such serious health issues."