National Ombudsmen
Printable version

Doctors failed to spot cancer ‘red flags’ for a year

Doctors failed to diagnose a woman’s colon cancer for a year despite her having ‘red flag’ symptoms.

In May 2019, Charlie Puplett, 45, began raising concerns with her GP surgery in Yeovil about unexplained weight loss, lack of appetite, change in bowel habits, a tender abdomen, stomach pain and bloating.

An investigation by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) found these symptoms should have been red flags leading to urgent attention.

While the GP practice did carry out several tests, none of them were for colon cancer.

Charlie now says she feels unable to trust anyone and needed therapy for PTSD following her experience.

In April 2020, after vomiting blood and faeces, Charlie called an ambulance and was taken to Yeovil Hospital where she was diagnosed with colon cancer.

Charlie underwent an emergency operation to remove two-thirds of her colon and a tumour. She also needed a stoma (an opening on the abdomen that allows waste to be diverted out of the body into a bag).

Charlie, a risk management controller from Yeovil, recently said:

“I kept going back to the practice and they just fobbed me off. They didn’t listen to me at all. I saw a different doctor each time, one of whom suggested I had anorexia and was in denial.

“It all came to a head one evening when, after standing outside clapping for the NHS workers, I vomited blood and foul. I was taken to A&E and diagnosed with colon cancer. I was very frightened and just kept saying ‘no, it can’t be’.”

Charlie, whose cancer is now in remission, complained to us. Our investigation, which included seeking advice from an independent GP, found that staff at the practice should have suspected cancer and referred Charlie for further investigation within two weeks.

If Charlie had been referred appropriately, she would have had a planned keyhole procedure, rather than unnecessary emergency surgery and a stoma. She also would not have needed a further operation a year later to remove the stoma.

The Ombudsman recommended that the surgery pay Charlie £2,950 for its failures and put in place an action plan to prevent this from happening in the future.

Charlie added:

“I’ve got a second chance and I’m thankful for that, but it’s had a huge effect on my life. I still experience severe lack of sleep and restlessness, and I’m constantly living in fear that any health issue will turn into something worse. My confidence and self-esteem are through the floor and I have problems trusting anyone. 

“I don’t want this to happen to anybody else, which is why I took my complaint to the Ombudsman. I have to fight not just for myself but for other people too.

“Everyone needs to listen to their bodies. I knew something was wrong but I listened to the professionals who told me everything was okay. If you’re worried, demand things are checked out and get a second opinion if you need it.”

Ombudsman Rob Behrens recently said:

“Charlie was failed by the professionals who she went to for help and the effect on her life has been significant. Not only did she have to undergo unnecessary surgery, but it has also affected her emotional wellbeing.

“We cannot change what happened but it’s important that when mistakes are made, organisations acknowledge what has happened and commit to learning from these mistakes to prevent it from happening again.”

For more information about the symptoms of bowel cancer, including cancers of the colon and rectum, visit Bowel Cancer UK.


Original article link:

Share this article

Latest News from
National Ombudsmen

Resilience & Cyber4Good