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Woman sues for shock after smear error

A woman is suing her health trust for shock after she discovered that a hospital's negligence has left her just a faint hope of ever fulfilling her dream of having children.

Juliet Collier-Knight, 28, claims to have suffered post- traumatic stress when she was told she needed an immediate hysterectomy after Salisbury Hospital misread her cervical smear test. Soon afterwards she suffered a severe depressive illness.

Ms Collier-Knight, who now has a significantly reduced chance of having children, underwent a pioneering operation to remove her cervix after the Salisbury Hospital failed to diagnose cervical cancer in 1996.

"We had been trying for children for some time but had not been successful," she said. "I had just been placed on an infertility programme, which included taking drugs, when I found out about the cancer.

"My first concern wasn't the cancer but the fact I wouldn't be able to have children," she said. "The cancer was a like a bug which I just wanted to go away but I was desperately distressed of being deprived of a chance of having children."

Ms Collier-Knight, who at the time was married to a soldier based in Germany, insisted that something should be done to preserve her chances of carrying her own child if she ever fell pregnant.

But she was told that the most appropriate treatment was a hysterectomy, and was referred to Ian Boyd at the Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton. Mr Boyd warned Ms Collier-Knight that the tumour might be particularly aggressive as Salisbury had not picked up her condition in the May 1996 smear test.

But after she had a series of consultations with doctors who warned her that a hysterectomy would be the safest treatment, it was agreed she be allowed a trachelectomy, pioneering surgery to remove the cervix instead of the whole womb.

The operation has been developed in America, where women have demanded alternative treatments to hysterectomies. The Princess Anne is one of only three medical centres in the UK able to offer alternatives to hysterectomies for cervical cancer.

Ms Collier-Knight said the treatment has been painful and that she will still need a Caesarean section to deliver a baby. But, she said: "If I hadn't been so persistent and asked about alternatives I'm not sure I would have been able to say I still have a glimmer of a chance of having children."

Her cancer is now in remission and she is engaged to an Army helicopter pilot. They intend to marry in the summer.

"I had to fight tooth and nail for it [the trachelectomy] and I shouldn't have had to. In this kind of treatment [cervical cancer], there doesn't appear to be any consideration of fertility issues. I wonder how many other women haven't even been given the chance of an alternative to having their womb removed."

Ms Collier-Knight claims the NHS trust was negligent in failing to recognise that her smear showed large clusters of probably severely abnormal cells, failing to report these, and failing to recommend urgent referral or an urgent repeat smear. The trust has admitted its reporting of the 1996 smear was negligent and Ms Collier-Knight will rely on this in her case against the trust.