Doctor told cancer patient she had anorexia despite three ‘red flag’ signs

One doctor suggested Charlie Puplett had anorexia and was 'in denial'

Joseph Draper
Sunday 04 June 2023 15:23 BST
<p>Charlie Puplett in hospital being treated for colon cancer</p>

Charlie Puplett in hospital being treated for colon cancer

A woman was “fobbed off” by her doctors who failed to diagnose her colon cancer for a year, an investigation revealed.

In May 2019, Charlie Puplett, 45, expressed concern at her GP surgery in Yeovil, Somerset, about unexplained weight loss, lack of appetite and a change in bowel habits.

But the surgery did not test her for colon cancer – with one doctor suggesting she had anorexia and was “in denial”, she said.

She was not diagnosed until almost a year later when she was rushed to hospital after vomiting blood.

Ms Puplett’s experience was detailed in an investigation by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO), which found that her symptoms should have been “red flags” leading to urgent testing within two weeks, and said she had been “failed” by her doctors.

Ms Puplett, whose cancer is in remission, added that she lives in “constant fear” that she will develop other life-threatening illnesses

As a result of her delayed treatment, the risk management controller required an emergency operation to two-thirds of her colon and had a temporary colostomy bag.

After recovering from the ordeal, she said: “I kept going back to the practice and they just fobbed me off. They didn’t listen to me at all. I saw a different doctor each time, one of whom suggested I had anorexia and was in denial.

“It all came to a head one evening when, after standing outside clapping for the NHS workers, I vomited blood. I was taken to A&E and diagnosed with colon cancer. I was very frightened and just kept saying ‘no, it can’t be’.”

Ms Puplett, whose cancer is in remission, added that she lives in “constant fear” that she will develop other life-threatening illnesses and that her experiences with her GP has meant she has “problems trusting anyone”.

Charlie Puplett undergoing chemotherapy

“I don’t want this to happen to anybody else, which is why I took my complaint to the Ombudsman,” she added.

If Ms Puplett had been referred appropriately, she would have had a keyhole procedure, rather than emergency surgery and a colostomy bag, the PHSO said.

The Ombudsman recommended that the surgery pay Ms Puplett £2,950 for its failures and put in place an action plan to prevent this from happening in the future.

Ombudsman Rob Behrens said: “Charlie was failed by the professionals who she went to for help and the effect on her life has been significant.

“Not only did she have to undergo unnecessary surgery, but it has also affected her emotional wellbeing.

“We cannot change what happened but it’s important that when mistakes are made, organisations acknowledge what has happened and commit to learning from these mistakes to prevent it from happening again.”

The NHS trust in question has been approached for comment.

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