GP surgery blamed for young cancer victim's late diagnosis
- Credit: Courtesy of Andrea Brady
The grieving mum of a 27-year-old woman who died three weeks after a shock cancer diagnosis has been speaking at Parliament about lessons that can be learnt from her daughter's tragic death.
Jess Brady, a satellite engineer at Airbus in Stevenage, began feeling unwell in June last year, but doctors failed for five months to realise she had an advanced and aggressive form of cancer.
By the time she was eventually diagnosed, on November 26, it had spread to her spine, liver, stomach, lungs and lymph nodes. She died on December 20.
Jess's mum, Andrea, was invited to speak at a Health and Social Care Select Committee meeting about cancer services last week, focused on how to improve the speed of diagnosis.
Andrea said Jess's late diagnosis was due to a failure by GPs to take her condition seriously because she was young, and that her "fragmented care" meant "no one person was looking at the whole picture and putting the pieces of the jigsaw together".
Jess's first symptom was abdominal and back discomfort. Following an online consultation, a GP diagnosed a kidney infection and prescribed antibiotics.
As time went on, Jess became increasingly fatigued and developed a hoarse voice and cough. Over the next two months - without any face-to-face GP appointments - Jess was prescribed more antibiotics, inhalers and steroids, but continued to deteriorate.
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Eventual blood tests revealed a D-dimer - a protein fragment indicative of a blood clot. Andrea said: "We now know a vital clue was lost, because we have discovered that in certain cancer patients there can be a raised D-dimer, but nothing was followed up.
"Jess contacted her GP practice on nearly 20 occasions, and at her lowest ebb it was really difficult for her to navigate the receptionists and try and receive any contact from a doctor. Nobody listened. Nobody took it seriously.
"Jessica was a very gentle, intelligent, articulate young lady, but it took an enormous toll and, towards the end, she said 'what's the point? Nobody will do anything.'"
In November, Andrea and her husband Simon decided to pay privately for Jess's healthcare. Devastatingly, a scan found she was riddled with cancer. She went into hospital on the day of her diagnosis and never came out.
"Jessica attributed her late diagnosis to the slow reactions of her GP surgery," Andrea said.
"Often the receptionists were dismissive, rude and patronising, which was deeply upsetting for Jessica because she was really poorly.
"She needed a face-to-face appointment really early on, with people making notes.
"Her fragmented care was key. She wasn't seen by one designated doctor. Four different doctors spoke to Jess and prescribed medication. No one person was looking at the whole picture and putting the pieces of the jigsaw together.
"If it had been someone older, perhaps the reactions would have been quicker, but we believe really strongly that age should not be a discriminating factor.
"Cancer's not common in Jessica's age group, but statistical likelihood should not be a determining factor in deciding whether diagnostic testing should be done."
Andrea told the committee there needs to be increased awareness of cancer in young people, ring-fenced funding to allow GPs to refer patients with increased urgency, and more specialist staff and equipment at hospitals to make swifter diagnoses. She also said frequent refresher courses and training for GPs is essential.
Andrea added: "Patients need a named doctor - not just in principal, but in practice. Somebody who will follow through with a patient's care."
She also suggested a hospice outreach service for end-of-life patients in hospital.
Andrea said Jess was "inadequately medicated" and on a COVID ward the night she died, surrounded by family.
"She was acutely aware of what was happening," she said. "The last words she said were 'I think I'm dying'. It was utterly tragic and traumatising.
"We trusted the healthcare professionals and we feel enormous guilt that we did.
"Jessica knew there was something wrong, but was a fairly compliant person. People shouldn't have to fight two battles - one keeping themselves going and the other trying to convince somebody they are very unwell.
"We shouldn't have to fight for ourselves and our loved ones and then feel the guilt afterwards that we didn't do enough."