A YORK woman whose throat cancer went undiagnosed for almost three months became dangerously malnourished because she couldn’t eat, her family claims.
The 58-year-old had to survive on sips of water and the ‘odd mouthful of custard’ – and when her cancer was finally diagnosed, she died within 48 hours from the disease after suffering a cardiac arrest.
The woman’s stepdaughter says she believes she died so quickly partly because of her malnourishment, and it happened so fast that her siblings never got chance to say goodbye.
She said the saga began when her stepmother, whom the family did not wish to be identified, was told by York Hospital in March that she did not have a recurrence of throat cancer which she had suffered from three years earlier, after she had raised concerns about mouth ulcers she was suffering from.
She said her GP surgery, Priory Medical Group, was unable to give her face-to-face appointments in April and May, and prescribed three courses of antibiotics after phone appointments.
“She asked for a scan,” she said. “By June, she was so thin and frail she was unable to walk short distances and had to be assisted.
“The ulcers had spread around the inside of her left cheek and over her tongue. The GP had requested she use her mobile phone to take photos of the inside of her mouth despite her being unable to open her jaw much.
“I tried again to get her in to see a GP on May 31 but, again they insisted a phone appointment was the only option. So, I rang 111 and they arranged an appointment at the hospital.
“She was seen there and told she needed bloods and to see the Maxillofacial team. After roughly eight hours waiting, they sent her home having not done the bloods and told her to await an appointment by letter.
“We have since been informed by the hospital that patients are assessed by the following; Is their airway clear? Can they swallow? If one or both are not possible, then the patient should be admitted.
“York Hospital failed to admit her even though she couldn’t swallow and was malnourished.”
She said cancer was only diagnosed on June 7 after she took her stepmother to York A &E and insisted she be seen by a specialist.
She was examined by a Maxillofacial doctor, a consultant and a surgeon, who told her she had cancer, prescribed a long list of treatments and medications, including a feeding tube and morphine, and admitted her, but she died in hospital two days later.
“We are angry. She suffered an excruciating illness when the help and support was available but nobody was listening.
“Even if the cancer was already terminal in March, she could have had pain management and palliative care and she may have lived longer had she had a feeding tube.”
Priory Medical Group partner Dr Emma Broughton said it was unable to share any information directly related to patient care, but offered its sympathies to the woman’s family at this difficult time.
“To offer all our patients reassurance, Priory Medical Group continues to offer a high number of face-to-face consultations,” she said.
“Indeed the practice team are currently delivering more patient contacts/ month than prior to the pandemic and more face-to-face slots.”
She said that like all GP Practices nationally, Priory was experiencing huge system pressures, with the ongoing and legacy impact of Covid, affecting staff-sickness rates, significant patient-waiting times for hospital care- adding additional pressure to General Practice, alongside the backdrop of fewer GPs in the workforce.
“But in spite of this, the clinical team continue to manage all the same-day requests for care and routine waiting times are currently between 3-4 weeks.”
A spokesperson for York and Scarborough Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said:“Our sympathies are with Sarah’s family and we are working closely with them to answer their questions about her care, and to help and support them at this difficult time.”