Family wins payout over mother Lavinia Bletchly's undiagnosed cancer

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The family of a young mother who died after doctors failed to diagnose her cancer secured a six-figure pay-out from an NHS body today.

Lavinia Bletchly, a 23-year-old mother of two, was sent home from hospital three times before she died of the aggressive cancer.

A High Court judge today approved an out-of-court settlement with Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, part of which will compensate her daughters Shaila, nine, and six-year-old Chloe.

Miss Bletchly, of Bridgend, south Wales, died from peritonitis and malignant non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

A full-time textile design student at the University of Wales Institute Cardiff, she fell ill in May 2004 a few months after Chloe's birth.

Examinations during the next eight months ruled out gynaecological problems, but she continued to complain of pain in her abdomen and pelvis.

In February 2005 an ultrasound revealed a cyst and an exploratory operation found fluid above the liver.

Over the next three weeks she was admitted three times to the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend.

On one occasion her family said a senior consultant told her it was "all in her head" and that she should make way for urgent cases.

In March 2005 a CT scan and further surgery found an extensive malignant tumour had encased her bowel and spread to her stomach.

Despite urgent chemotherapy her prognosis was not good as the cancer was aggressive and advanced. She died on March 24 2005 after a ruptured bowel caused peritonitis, leading to multi-organ failure.

It is understood the family will receive about £350,000.

Sitting in Cardiff, Judge Anthony Seys Llewellyn QC said he was satisfied the sum awarded was "appropriate and sensible".

He praised Miss Bletchly's partner and the girls' father, Justin Tellem.

"This settlement gives certainty of very substantial damages for the dependents of Lavinia," the judge said.

"There is the certainty of everything that I have read that her two daughters are in the care of an excellent father and a close and warm family.

"I record their father's admirable will to ensure their interests in this settlement."

Speaking outside court, Miss Bletchly's father, Arthur, 57, said: "Today is a good day, really. We are very lucky we have got the kids. They are lovely little girls - what kept us going, to be honest.

"It would be just great if they could grow up and be happy and do something useful with their lives, and I think that what we have got to do is to put them in a position where they can do that.

"Shaila does remember her mum and I think what we must tell her, both of them, is that Lavinia loved them very much indeed and wanted to see them grow up and get married and do something useful with their lives."

Fighting back tears, he described how his daughter was admitted to hospital in February 2005.

"She was in that hospital for most of the month but was discharged three times," he said.

"At one point one of the senior consultants said to her 'This is all in your head. I need you to get out of this hospital to make way for more urgent cases', which was a terrible thing to say to a young woman with two kids who, four weeks further on, was going to die."

He called for the health board to consider taking disciplinary action and said he would refer the case to the General Medical Council.

In a statement, the health board said: "ABM University Health Board again offers its sincere condolences to the family of Lavinia Bletchly, following her sad death in 2005.

"Incidents of this kind are taken very seriously and a full inquiry was carried out by the former Bro Morgannwg NHS Trust at the time, which included investigations by several independent clinical experts."

It added: "This was a very complex case, involving many different clinical specialties and processes.

"We were assured by the reports from the independent clinical experts, which produced no evidence of any 'gross failings' on the part of hospital staff.

"We are always anxious to learn lessons from incidents like these to ensure everything can be done to reduce the risk of them reoccurring."

It said the claim was settled out of court to avoid prolonged legal proceedings which could result in substantial costs.

The board was ordered to pay £35,000 costs on top of £30,000 already paid.

Julie Lewis, a medical negligence expert with Irwin Mitchell Solicitors, representing the family, said independent experts confirmed that if Miss Bletchly had received chemotherapy four weeks earlier the cancer would have been treatable.

"We have not had any assurance that any changes have been made and that's one of the family's greatest concerns about this case," she said.