We often act in cases where doctors fail to diagnose cancer in time, meaning that a person does not benefit from treatment until it is too late. In a recent case in the news, however, a woman was operated upon when there was, in fact, nothing wrong with her.

Elizabeth Dawes was informed by doctors at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton that a right breast biopsy had shown she had grade 3 invasive cancer requiring immediate treatment. She underwent surgery to remove the tumour and lymph nodes from her armpit.

Four days after the operation, however, her consultant admitted there had been a mix-up between three patients’ notes containing biopsy results and her own test had come back negative. She had effectively undergone painful, invasive surgery for no reason at all.

Mrs Dawes was left with extensive scarring and reduced sensation in her breasts, and left so traumatised that she quit her job as a breast care nurse at the hospital.

These instances of wrongful diagnosis can be more common than people think. I have acted for a client in the past who was told she had lung cancer and would need a major operation, involving significant reconstruction. She was given the ‘good news’ by her consultant that she had never in fact suffered from cancer at her follow-up appointment. The shadow on the scan that was interpreted as cancer (with no biopsy ever having been taken) was, in fact, just an infection.

The relief at being told that your cancer diagnosis was a mistake must be huge: only to be followed by a crushing sense of injustice when you realise that you have endured invasive, painful surgery for no reason at all.

CAPTION: Claire Kirwan, Head of the Medical Negligence & Personal Injury Department

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