£345,000 for woman given false diagnosis

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A nurse aged 63 who suffered years of major operations, including losing both breasts, after she was misdiagnosed as having cancer won £345,222 in damages yesterday.

A nurse aged 63 who suffered years of major operations, including losing both breasts, after she was misdiagnosed as having cancer won £345,222 in damages yesterday.

Jennifer Cormack, who had a history of benign breast lumps, endured 14 operations, including the double mastectomy, seven reconstructive breast procedures, a thyroidectomy and two hernia repairs, the High Court was told. She also had a hysterectomy after problems with the cancer drug Tamoxifen, and one of her silicone implants burst.

Mrs Cormack, of Kenninghall, Norfolk,was told in the London Hospital in 1984 that she had cancer. Ten years later, in 1994, she was told she had never had cancer.

She was suing East London and The City Health Authority for negligent treatment. She told the court she had to retire early from her career as a child-nurse manager with responsibility for 200 employees because of the stress of what she believed was a terminal condition.

She moved to Norfolk to live out a more peaceful life and travelled widely to the Gambia, Sri Lanka and Belize to make the most of the time she had left. She said she had tried to cope with the disease she was told she had by refusing to discuss her condition with her former colleagues and friends. But this had added to the emotional strain on her.

"It was very difficult for my colleagues and friends but that's how I dealt with it," she said. "It didn't make it go away but I couldn't cope with it any other way. Friends and colleagues have said I've now lost that haunted look because it always hung over me. I carried this diagnosis around with me."

Her claim included sums for loss of earnings, loss of pension rights, the cost of care and the pain and suffering she endured. The authority admitted liability and causation but disputed the amount of compensation.

Mr Justice Buckley awarded Mrs Cormack £68,000 for her pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. He said she had coped with the awful consequences of the negligent diagnosis as well as anyone could.

But medical reports made clear that, despite her stoicism, she had suffered mental anguish. She was left with a feeling of anger and had suffered moderate depression from time to time.

The judge expressed his sympathies to Mrs Cormack "for this dreadful experience" and added he hoped "the future is rather brighter".

Andrew Kennedy, for the health authority, said: "I would like to express the sentiment that the trust has already expressed - it has issued an unreserved apology to Mrs Cormack for what happened so long ago and, indeed, the consequences that have continued since and I simply repeat that for her to hear today." The authority will also have to pay costs, unofficially estimated at £100,000.

Mrs Cormack, who now works for a breast cancer charity as a voluntary phone counsellor, said: "I am very, very relieved the whole ordeal is over and I sincerely hope the hospital disciplinary procedures will duly take place."

Her misdiagnosis was made by Dr Colin Berry, who is now Professor Sir Colin Berry. He no longer practises in breast cancer diagnosis.

Jackie Graveney of the charity Breakthrough Breast Cancer said: "This is an appalling case and fortunately very rare. But I hope it will not put women off seeking a diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer."

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