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GP Surgery Missed 'Red Flag' Colon Cancer Symptoms

A GP practice in Somerset failed to diagnose a patient's colon cancer for a year, despite the woman displaying 'red flag' symptoms of the disease, a watchdog said.

An investigation by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman  (PHSO) found that the Yeovil practice should have suspected cancer and referred Charlie Puplett for further investigation within 2 weeks.

The surgery carried out a range of tests after the 45-year-old first presented in May 2019 with unexplained weight loss, lack of appetite, a change in bowel habits, a tender abdomen, stomach pain, and bloating, but that none of the tests were for colon cancer.

'I Was Fobbed Off'

Over the following 11 months, Ms Puplett, a risk management controller from Yeovil, described being "fobbed off" during several consultations at the surgery. She said: "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."

In April 2020, after clapping for NHS workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, she called an ambulance after vomiting blood and faeces. "I was taken to A&E and diagnosed with colon cancer," she said. "I was very frightened and just kept saying 'no, it can't be'."

Ms Puplett underwent emergency surgery at Yeovil Hospital to remove two-thirds of her colon and a tumour, and was fitted with a stoma.

If the patient had been referred appropriately, she would have had a planned keyhole procedure instead, and would not have needed follow-up surgery a year later to remove the stoma, the Ombudsman said in a statement.

Surgery Told to Address Failures

Ms Puplett, whose cancer is now in remission, complained to the PHSO, which investigates complaints about the NHS that cannot be resolved with the organisation involved. The investigation, aided by advice from an independent GP, recommended that the surgery pay Ms Puplett £2950 for its failures and put in place a plan of action to prevent similar mistakes in the future.

"I’ve got a second chance and I’m thankful for that, but it’s had a huge effect on my life," Ms Puplett said. "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."

Ombudsman Rob Behrens 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."