‘Blinkered’ medics didn’t spot police officer’s cancer

Fran Fleming. Doctors delayed diagnosing her lung cancer (s)
Fran Fleming. Doctors delayed diagnosing her lung cancer (s)

The family of a “bubbly and loving” Burnley police officer and grandmother who died earlier this year said they feel let down after “significant failings” in her diagnosis of advanced lung cancer despite several visits to hospital and her GP.

Health bosses admitted there were failings in the care of Mrs Frances Fleming (51), who was known as Fran, and a coroner blasted some of the health professionals who treated her as “blinkered” at an inquest into her death.

I think, knowing what I know now and how much Mrs Fleming suffered, it could have been done better

Doctor

Blackburn coroner Mr Michael Singleton recorded a verdict of natural causes at the inquiry but said the fact the illness was not picked up earlier was an “outrage.” He added both her quantity and quality of life could have been improved if it had been diagnosed at an earlier stage.

Mr Singleton also said he would consider writing to bosses at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, which has since highlighted learning points for radiographers, following Mrs Fleming’s death at Pendleside Hospice in August.

Speaking after the inquest, at King George’s Hall in Blackburn, her husband David, of Queen’s Park Road, said: “We can understand the limitations the coroner works to but we didn’t go to the hospital to see a faith healer or a witch doctor.

“We feel tremendously let down as a family. Fran’s life could have been prolonged.”

While Mr Singleton said there had been failings in Mrs Fleming’s care, he stopped short of saying there had been a gross failure and neglect in her treatment.

“Even if it were the case that the dice had already been played and she already had terminal cancer back in February, it is outrageous that during her last few months she was not provided with the appropriate care.

“That she lost the opportunity of chemotherapy which would have assisted in terms of quality of life, that she was denied that opportunity is an outrage.”

The inquest heard Mrs Fleming, who had seven children and five grandchildren, had gone to her GP on several occasions suffering from severe chest, back and shoulder pain. She also attended the Royal Blackburn Hospital numerous times because the pain was so bad. The inquest was told Mrs Fleming was admitted to the hospital in February where she had X-rays and scans to try to find the cause of the pain.

But doctors failed to spot that Mrs Fleming had a tumour on her lung until three months later when she was seen by respiratory consultant Dr Fawad Zaman after she was again admitted to hospital.

She was also found to have a tumour in her breast, which was likely to have spread from her lungs.

The inquest was told that, by the time her condition was discovered, she had become too weak to have chemotherapy treatment, which could have improved her quality of life during her final months.

Dr Fawad Zaman told the inquest prior to Mrs Fleming’s diagnosis, other doctors had been focusing on a musculoskeletal cause for the pain she had been experiencing.

Even though X-rays had been carried out prior to her being diagnosed with cancer, Dr Zaman said radiographers had been looking for a problem with her spine. “It should have been picked up,” he said.

“I think, knowing what I know now and how much Mrs Fleming suffered, it could have been done better.

“We went into the wrong pathway and unfortunately we never came out of that pathway.”

He gave the cause of death as bronchopneumonia caused by lung cancer.

Recording his verdict, Mr Singleton said the health professionals who saw Mrs Fleming leading up to her diagnosis, including the GP and hospital doctors, had been “blinkered” because they failed to explore other possible causes of the pain she was suffering.

“Certainly I’m pleased at least that the hospital has admitted there were failings. Just because you are taking a picture of one thing doesn’t mean you can close your eyes to everything else.

“But, from a coronial point of view, I can’t say that what occurred amounted to neglect in a legal sense.

“However there were significant failings that have had a devastating effect on the family.”

Dr Damian Riley, Medical Director at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Mrs Fleming and we appreciate this is a very difficult time for them.

“Following Mrs Fleming’s death in August, a full investigation was carried out and shared with the Coroner, the family and the medical staff involved in Mrs Fleming’s care.

“Our investigation highlighted several recommendations which are now in place and subsequently endorsed by the Coroner.”