Source: Wales Online
Author: Liz Day
A woman died from throat cancer after doctors initially believed her swallowing problems were caused by an eating disorder. Rosemary Young was 63 when she died five months after being admitted to hospital with depression following the suicide of her 33-year-old son Andrew Hillier. Sister Lynne Middleton said: “Her condition deteriorated dramatically until she could not swallow at all. She weighed 9st when she was admitted to hospital and less than 5st when she died. It was very distressing – every time we left the hospital, we were in turmoil.”
Mrs Young, who lived in Blackwood and had two children and one grandchild, had complained of difficulty swallowing six weeks before she was admitted to the Ty Sirhowy mental health unit in September 2011. She had been due to see an ear, nose and throat specialist at the Royal Gwent Hospital, but missed the appointment due to her depression, prompting her family to ask for a referral during her admission. Mrs Middleton, who is a registered mental health nurse, said: “A week after she was admitted, I was very worried about her. She looked unkempt and was not eating, but the staff were adamant it was an eating disorder. “When they said it over and over again, I started to think they might be right, but it did not make any sense. My sister was a lady whose one joy in life was cooking. It was absolute nonsense. At dinner, they forced her to eat aggressively and she was terrified.”
When Ty Sirhowy closed in November 2011, Mrs Young was transferred to the Ty Cyfannol ward of Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr in Ystrad Mynach, but her family say they were not informed of the move. Mrs Middleton, who regularly travelled from Lampeter to visit her sister, said: “I pleaded with them to do an assessment of her throat, but the doctors did not listen. It was obvious to me that there was something wrong. “I would watch her try to eat and she would manage one fork full, then cough and start to inhale the food. “I pointed this out time and time again, but nobody listened.” In December 2011, Mrs Middleton received a phone call informing her that her sister was due to be discharged from hospital.
Recalling the conversation, she said: “They told me there was nothing wrong with her and suggested she was bed blocking. I dropped what I was doing and drove straight to the hospital.” She added: “The doctor repeatedly told me there was nothing wrong with my sister. He grudgingly agreed to refer her to a specialist, but warned me they would tell me the same thing.” Mrs Young was referred to an ear, nose and throat consultant at the Royal Gwent Hospital in January 2012, where she was immediately diagnosed with throat cancer.
Mrs Middleton said: “The consultant told us that if a doctor had shone a torch into her mouth, he would have been able to see the tumour. He told me he was ashamed of his fellow professionals.” By the time Mrs Young was diagnosed, the tumour had already spread and it was too late to operate. She died three weeks after the referral at the Royal Gwent Hospital on February 20, 2012. According to Mrs Middleton’s lawyers, she complained about her sister’s treatment to the Aneurin Bevan Health Board in November 2012. The lawyers also claim the organisation accepted that it had breached its duty of care to Mrs Young due to the delay in diagnosing her tumour, but maintained she would have died anyway.
Mrs Middleton said: “She may have died, but what they could have done, had they treated her in a more timely fashion, was to prolong her life by a year or two and stop her from having to endure such an awful death.” Mrs Middleton says she was offered £2,000 in compensation by the health board, which she turned down.
Emma Doughty, clinical negligence lawyer at Slater and Gordon, said: “Rosemary’s family are still understandably distressed and grief-stricken at her death. It is always difficult when you lose a family member, but to lose a loved one in such a distressing way has been extremely hard for them to come to terms with.” She added: “They believe more could have been done to help Rosemary and want to know why this much-loved woman was allowed to die in such awful circumstances.” The firm are now considering whether an earlier referral could have saved or prolonged Mrs Young’s life and whether to pursue the matter further. Mrs Middleton hopes the health board will accept that they treated her sister badly and put procedures in place to prevent similar cases from happening in the future.
A spokesman for the Aneurin Bevan Health Board said: “We would again wish to offer our sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mrs Young. A full investigation into this case has been undertaken and our medical director has met with the family.” He added: “We are unable to comment further as the matter is the subject of ongoing litigation.”
*This news story was resourced by the Oral Cancer Foundation, and vetted for appropriateness and accuracy.