Losing the love of your life is devastating.
However, when their death is the direct result of avoidable medical negligence, the grief can be overwhelming.
In this story, we hear from Kenneth Lapworth, who sadly lost his wife to cancer which developed after their local NHS Trust failed to arrange regular check-ups for her condition.
It’s a warning to us all about the impact mistakes and oversights in healthcare can have.
A manageable condition
Kenneth and Elaine Lapworth were happily married for 40 years, with three children and two grandchildren. Within their traditional close-knit family, Elaine took on much of the responsibility for childcare and running the household.
In the early 1990s, Elaine started experiencing health issues and was quickly diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. This form of inflammatory bowel disease is relatively common, affecting around 1 in every 420 people in the UK.
Whilst it is a life-long chronic illness, the condition is well understood and much can be done to control symptoms using medication and surgery.
Upon diagnosis, Elaine was informed that there were known links between ulcerative colitis and bowel cancer and that regular surveillance would be required.
Kenneth said: “Naturally we were worried, but the consultants assured us that with regular screening they would be able to detect any issues at an early stage.
“Initially Elaine received appointments every six months, but this reduced to every year or two over the rest of the 1990s and early 2000s. Then in 2003, we stopped receiving appointments. We weren’t experts, so we never thought to question why our hospital and GP were not asking her to attend check-ups.
“You just get on with life. The examinations had become infrequent and if Elaine’s condition flared up, she’d just take her medication as instructed. She saw her GP repeatedly to get prescriptions for the ulcerative colitis medicine, but the need for ongoing screening was never mentioned.”
In late 2011, Elaine’s health began to suffer. Despite the long-standing condition and risk of cancer, her GP repeatedly diagnosed the illness as a virus.
When Elaine became very poorly in August 2012, she was referred to hospital where tests confirmed she had developed cancer relating to ulcerative colitis. Sadly, this delay in diagnosis meant the cancer had now spread to other areas of her body.
Kenneth said: “It was so shocking. We were told the cancer was too advanced to be cured. The next few weeks were truly awful for Elaine and the whole family. Within five weeks she’d succumbed to the cancer.
“Elaine was my best friend and soul mate and I miss her companionship every day. I still find it hard to believe that medical professionals could have let her down so badly. We could have had many more years together.”
Kenneth was naturally confused and angry about the unnecessary nature of Elaine’s death and turned to the medical negligence team at Your Legal Friend for support.
Upon investigation, our specialists found that the local NHS Trust had failed in its duty to provide Elaine with follow-up surveillance for her Ulcerative Colitis.
This had resulted in a negligent delay in the diagnosis of her cancer, which was at an advanced stage.
Sara Stanger is the lawyer who supported Kenneth throughout the case. She said: “With regular examinations it’s highly likely Elaine’s cancer would have been identified early and could have been treated successfully. The sad fact is that she was actually having fantastic care under her consultant at the hospital and, had she not been lost to follow up, it is very likely that the cancer would have been detected early and she would have been cured and gone on to live a normal life.”
“There were repeated opportunities over the best part of a decade for Elaine’s GP and hospital to spot the error.
“The loss of Elaine was tragic and has had a serious impact across all areas of the family’s life. Whilst the NHS does fantastic work, unacceptable and preventable oversights like this are unfortunately too common.”
Kenneth is keen to tell his story as he feels that other families need to protect themselves from this type of negligence.
He said: “It’s heart-breaking to think that Elaine’s death was completely avoidable. You place your trust in medical professionals but they are human and can make mistakes. I want Elaine’s story to serve as a warning to others to act quickly if there are changes in their health or pattern of treatment.
“People need to be aware and have the confidence to raise any queries or concerns with those responsible for looking after them. I don’t want to see another family go through the unnecessary suffering we have.”
In Elaine’s case, the NHS Trust admitted negligence and awarded Kenneth £150,000 in compensation.
Although no amount of money can compensate for the loss of a loved one, the financial impact of negligence needs to be taken into account. This can include the loss of income into a family home and other considerations such as funeral expenses.
Delayed or misdiagnosis can happen for many reasons. Below are a few tips to help ensure you receive the high standard of care you deserve:
- Detail - make sure you take notes during each appointment. You can be given a lot of information at once and it can be easy to miss details or important information when under pressure.
- Seek clarification - if there are any terms you don’t understand, or you want to know the reasoning behind decisions, then make sure to ask for clarification during or after your appointment.
- Self-schedule - if you suffer from a condition that is persistent, could return, or one that may increase the chances of other issues arising, schedule regular check-ups with your GP. Maintain reminders in your personal diary and chase up if there is any delay.
- Don’t be afraid - Make sure you ask why situations have changed and feel empowered to challenge a decision that you don’t think is right or fair.
- Don’t be shy to ask for further explanation or a second opinion.
If you'd like to learn more about bowel cancer claims you can take a look at our bowel cancer FAQs and guidance page.