The family of a woman whose lung cancer was only detected after her death have accused the hospital where she died of “systems failure” and of dismissing their concerns during the woman’s final days.
An inquest into the death of Teresa Doyle, aged 50, from Marian Avenue in Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary, heard she died from a rare form of lung cancer that can be difficult to detect, but her niece was told weeks before she died cancer was “not on the radar” .
Ms Doyle was admitted to South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel in May of 2007, with shortness of breath, vomiting, severe pains, inability to swallow, dehydration, and fainting. It was her third admission to the hospital since Apr 24.
Her family asked doctors several times if lung cancer was a possibility, and were told that it was not. The inquest heard the cancer was only found on her lungs, in the form of “widespread” diffuse tumours at a cellular level, during an autopsy.
The diagnosis made by her medical team in hospital was a re-activation of Behçets disease, a rare rheumatic illness from which she had previously suffered.
Ms Doyle’s family told the inquest that during her last days she could not be put on a dialysis machine as there was no technician available to use it. Antibiotics had to be collected by gardaí in Waterford as they were not available in the hospital.
After Teresa was moved to intensive care, relatives were told by a doctor she was responding to an antibiotic and there was “some hope” for her. A nurse later told them the doctor had spoken to the wrong family.
Martina Sinnott, Ms Doyle’s niece, said that on May 15, she told consultant Dr Isweri Pillay she thought all the symptoms pointed to lung cancer and asked why Teresa was not referred to Cork for a bronchoscopy. The consultant said: “Cancer is not on the radar”.
In her evidence, Dr Pillay said she “probably” said this but it was during Teresa’s first admission to hospital.
Dr Pillay agreed with David Kennedy, for the family, that Teresa “wouldn’t have suffered as much” if she was correctly diagnosed and given palliative care.
Consultant radiologist Dr John Hynes said there was “nothing” on a CT scan carried out on Ms Doyle’s chest to suggest there may have been a tumour.
The deceased’s daughter, Katie Ryan, said the family’s concerns were “never addressed nor acknowledged” in the hospital.
“My mother’s last days in this world were extremely difficult and painful for her and difficult for her family to watch,” she said.
“I believe there was a systems failure at St Joseph’s Hospital, Clonmel [the former name for South Tipperary General].”
After the inquest, the family said they were not interested in taking a negligence case or in compensation, but wanted to help ensure that what happened to Teresa would not happen again.
The jury recorded a verdict in line with the pathological evidence. They made recommendations, including that the lung cancer rapid access referral guidelines for GPs be “rigorously followed” and the families’ concerns be considered and recorded by medical staff in such cases.
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