Wait for cancer hearing goes on

Still no one held responsible for terminally ill nurse’s treatment three years after legal action.

A nurse who is suffering with terminal cancer fears she may die before anyone is held accountable for alleged failures in her treatment. 

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Debbie Westwick, 43, who lives in Canterbury, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 and had surgery to remove a lump.

But tests had already revealed the tumour was spreading and an urgent mastectomy would have been the recommended procedure.

Instead she received chemotherapy and radiotherapy and her cancer returned in September last year and is now terminal.

She was treated at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital by consultant oncologist Dr Howard Smedley, who at the time was subject of “supervision undertakings” by the General Medical Council and surgeon David Jackson, who was suspended in the middle of her treatment and subsequently sacked for failings unconnected with her case.

Mrs Westwick took legal action in 2009 and the East Kent Hospitals Trust settled for £155,000 without responding to the allegations. A GMC “fitness to practise” panel hearing with Dr Smedley is now scheduled for June.

She said: “I try not to waste energy on being bitter but I am angry with both of the NHS trust for allowing treatment which deviated so far from the local and national guidelines to occur when, unbeknown to me, Dr Smedley was already under GMC conditions. Their chief executives have been dismissive of my complaints.

However, I am lucky to have a great GP and my treatment now at the Kent and Canterbury is wonderful in a transformed unit that provides compassionate care.

The GMC case is still not heard three years on and they insist that I travel to Manchester for the hearing in June. I am angry that a body that is supposed to protect patients makes it such a hard and protracted process.

Of course, it is hard facing my mortality. I struggle with the fact that I may not be around to see my own son, James, qualify as a doctor, won’t see him marry or know my grandchildren. But I hope that one of the legacies that I leave for him is that in life it is important to do what is right, not what is easy.

I have planned my funeral, updated my will and am enjoying the remainder of my life here in this beautiful city surrounded by a wonderful family and so many supportive friends.”

‘Profound errors made in this case’

Delays by the GMC in hearing Mrs Westwick’s case echo that of sacked K&C surgeon David Jackson, which it is still yet to consider.

Her solicitor, Nick Fairweather, of Fairweathers Solicitors, Station Road West, Canterbury, said: “Profound errors were made in this case with a flawed approach to breast cancer treatment that was systemic and likely to have prevailed in countless other cases.

“It is appalling that Debbie now has to fight the medical establishment as well as her cancer. I pay tribute to her bravery and dignity and am determined that lessons are learned from her case long-term.”

GMC spokesman Jason Day said: “We know that when we have to postpone a hearing it can be very frustrating for those involved. We have been actively working to reschedule this particular hearing and are currently planning to hold it in June”.

Published on Thursday, 29 March 2012 in the Kentish Gazette.

Reproduced here with the kind permission with the KM Group.