Mum-of-three whose cancer was mistaken for long Covid told disease 'most severe' oncologist had seen

A woman whose inoperable lung cancer was initially treated as long Covid has said she could have been diagnosed earlier if she had seen a doctor face-to-face.

When she was eventually diagnosed, Caroline Page, 64, said she was told by her oncologist that her cancer was the most severe he had ever seen.

Mrs Page, a county councillor in Suffolk, was suffering from breathlessness and fatigue after having Covid in October 2020.

She was referred to a long Covid clinic in spring 2021 and attended long Covid sessions on Zoom run by her local NHS hospital trust.

Mrs Page said: "They sent me on Zoom groups so we could all be tired together, and talk about how tired we were competitively, rather than perhaps getting me to see someone in person who would say 'Fatigue and bad breathing from a very fit woman who has cycled for 40 years - shall we look a bit further?'

The boss of East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), which treated Mrs Page, has now written to her, offering to talk to her directly about her care.

Caroline Page and her husband Patrick at Lands End Credit: Caroline Page

Mrs Page is not the first person diagnosed with cancer after struggling to be seen face-to-face during the lockdown. The parents of 27-year-old Jessica Brady from Stevenage launched a petition after their daughter died despite being told her symptoms were "nothing serious".

Mrs Page said she was eventually diagnosed with cancer by her GP earlier this year.

"By the time they did diagnose it in August it was really very advanced. It is a personal tragedy but I am also very concerned about anyone else it might have happened to," she told ITV News Anglia.

"I don't think my condition was preventable but I think the stage it has got to before anyone noticed it was there was totally preventable.

"And that's down to this policy of deciding not to do face-to-face appointments, and that is down to what the government decided."

Mrs Page said she did not blame the her GP or the hospital who had been trying hard in impossible circumstances.

The Liberal Democrat councillor said the government and Matt Hancock had been "rotten" custodians of the NHS.

She said her local MP Therese Coffey, the new health secretary, needed to take urgent action to improve the service patients were getting.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are sorry to hear about this case. We expect patients to experience the same high quality of care regardless of how they access their GP surgery.

“Guidance is clear that GP practices must provide face-to-face appointments, alongside remote consultations – and over two thirds of appointments in August were face-to-face.”

Caroline Page with her husband Patrick, who is the Mayor of Woodbridge in Suffolk Credit: Caroline Page

Mrs Page said hearing the news that she had inoperable cancer had been a cruel blow.

"I felt like a child who's been taken away from a party too soon. As a county councillor I've got so many things I want to do, and as a person I've got so many things."

Mrs Page was a keen cyclist and had previously taken part in a bike ride from Land's End to John O'Groats.

Mrs Page, who is married to the Mayor of Woodbridge and has three children, said she was missing adventurous holidays and had been planning a backpacking trip to Romania this summer which had to be cancelled.

She is not sure she will live until next summer but is devoting herself to working for Woodbridge as a county councillor, and writing poetry.

She said the support of friends and family had been keeping her going in the meantime.

The Department of Health has been approached for comment.

Dr Angela Tillett, chief medical officer at ESNEFT, the trust which runs Ipswich Hospital, said: "We were very sorry to learn about the concerns raised by Councillor Page.

"Our chief executive Nick Hulme has written to her personally today to offer an opportunity to talk about her care directly and to support her further.”