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‘This must not happen to another woman’

A WOMAN whose cancer went undiscovered for three years at Letterkenny University Hospital (LUH) has said she was told she “slipped through the net”.
Margaret Doherty from Stranorlar is the third woman to speak out about her horrific experience in the hospital’s gynaecological department which is now under a HSE and Saolta review. She presented to the hospital in 2013 with bleeding and had tests carried out on her uterus.

Tissue samples were taken that had cancerous cells but it was not until 2016 when she went into hospital again with bleeding that she was told a mistake had been made and that she had had cancer of the womb for the previous three years. Further tests in Dublin revealed by that stage the cancer had spread to her back and the glands at the bottom of her kidneys.

Speaking to the Donegal News this week Ms Doherty said she would go through the entire process again if she thought the gynaecology department had learned from its mistakes and that other women would be spared her ordeal.

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“To keep making the same mistakes, I can’t understand that,” said Ms Doherty.
“Who are they responsible to? They are playing with people’s lives.”

When she presented to her GP initially with bleeding Ms Doherty had to wait eleven months for her appointment at the hospital. In September 2013 a procedure was carried out to remove tissue from inside the uterus and a Mirena coil was fitted to stop the bleeding. Ms Doherty thought that was the end of it until she began heavily bleeding again in January 2016. She then waited for an where they checked if the Mirena coil had come out. After leaving this appointment Ms Doherty was called back to the hospital and was told about notes in her file which said she had cancer in 2013.

She was then booked in for an ultrasound and during the scan she said there was an agrument in front of her over her treatment. Despite repeatedly asking doctors about the cancerous cells detected three years earlier she said she was not getting any answers. It was not until August 2016 when she met with representatives of Gynaecology Department that she was given her diagnosis which is treatable with surgery in the early stages.

She said she was told: “I’m so sorry. You have cancer. You slipped through the net.”

Ms Doherty, who was 49-years-old at the time, was sent for an MRI and CT scan in Letterkenny which revealed the cancer had spread to her back and was referred to St James’ Hospital in Dublin for treatment. On September 7, 2016 she had her womb removed and her back operated on. After this surgery she was told that they discovered the cancer had also spread to the glands at the bottom of the kidneys. Ms Doherty underwent a second operation on November 8, 2016 followed by six sessions of chemotherapy in Letterkenny and five weeks of radium treatment in St Luke’s Hospital, Dublin. Ms Doherty, aged 55, is now cancer free, but the treatment has impacted her both mentally and physically. She has been left with a painful condition called Lymphedema where excess fluid collects in tissues causing swelling.

“My children were in their thirties and twenties, I wasn’t going to be having any more children. They could have taken out my womb when it was confined,” she said.

“But because there was nothing done then I needed chemo and radium, operations, which has left me now with Lymphedema because I have no glands on my stomach on the left hand side. I have to go every so often to get drained.”

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With adult daughters and a granddaughter aged eleven Ms Doherty wants to know this will not happen again to another woman in the county. A review team is currently carrying out an investigation into the quality and safety of gynaecological clinical services at LUH. Their main focus is how to improve “the pathways of care for patients who present with Post-Menopausal Bleeding (PMB).”

She is actively pursuing High Court proceedings through her solicitors PA Dorrian and Company.

“We are going to ensure justice is done for Margaret who is motivated by the desire to make sure that others are spared the horrible anguish of her situation,” said solicitor, Mr Pat McMyler.

“The failure to engage with victims of the health system in a timely fashion is outrageous and it seems Ireland only responds when dragged into court by individual citizens.”

Ms Doherty was encouraged to tell her story following an interview in the Donegal News with Edel Peoples, a Convoy woman who requested an internal review of her mother’s case after she was diagnosed with stage four cancer 18 months after first presenting to the hospital. Ms Peoples came forward after reading the story of UK based consultant Dr Margaret MacMahon, who first called for a review of gynae services at the hospital, after her sister Carol passed away from cancer of the womb (uterus), a treatable condition that was missed because no tissue samples were taken. Dr MacMahon is campaigning for the review to be made available to the public and she is available for a confidential conversation with any women who have concerns about their treatment.

A spokesperson for Saolta said: “We cannot comment on individual cases. Maintaining a patient’s confidentiality is not only an ethical requirement for the HSE and all HSE funded hospitals; it is also a legal requirement as defined in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) along with the Data Protection Acts 1988 – 2018. When a patient or family makes personal information public, this does not relieve the HSE and all HSE funded hospitals of its duty to preserve/uphold patient confidentiality at all times. If patients or families have concerns or questions in relation to the care they can contact the hospital directly to discuss further.”

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