Birmingham mum claims hospital missed her lung cancer 'because she was a non-smoker'

Mum-of-two Tracey Ketch said the eventual diagnosis left her "shocked and tearful" Credit: BPM/PA

A mum-of-two from Birmingham claims her lung cancer was routinely missed by her doctors because she was a non-smoker.

Tracey Ketch, from Sutton Coldfield, had a persistent cough and felt short of breath, but her condition was identified as a chest infection on four occasions by her GPs.

Then, after two X-ray checks at Good Hope Hospital in May and June 2019, she was wrongly given the cancer ‘all-clear’ aged 49.

She believes the possibility of cancer was prematurely discounted, as she was an ‘otherwise healthy 50-year-old who never smoked’.

Eventually, with ongoing symptoms, she went back to her GP in January 2020 after suffering with chest pains.

She was sent for an urgent chest CT scan, which took place on 2 February, where her cancer was finally diagnosed.

At that stage, she said the doctor reviewing the scan found a four-centimetre tumour and secondary growths throughout her lungs. She said she was told by a consultant the previous X-rays had suggested she may have had cancer but it had been missed.

Mrs Ketch, now 53, said: "I’m sure my cancer was missed because I am a non-smoker.

"I feel my symptoms were dismissed as soon as the question of smoking was covered.

“It’s a tick box system but no two people are the same. The consultant who reviewed my previous X-rays said I should take legal advice. He wanted to ensure lessons were learned.”

She said the eventual diagnosis left her "shocked and tearful" and "confused and worried".

Mrs Ketch said: “I didn’t accept it at first. I’d had three X-rays and been to A&E, so I thought: 'How could I go from being all clear to having cancer all over my lungs?'

“Because I’d been to my GP so many times, and told it was a chest infection, I was telling myself it was all in my mind and it was stress.

"At the time I was having all these symptoms my husband had suffered a stroke, so I convinced myself it was to do with the strain of life, as I was having to care for him also.”

As a result of legal action, launched by medical negligence specialists Hudgell Solicitors, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust admitted reviews of chest X-rays in May 2019 and June 2019 fell below expected standards, in that the visible tumour was not identified. 

It also admitted that had the radiographs been appropriately interpreted, investigations would have led to an earlier diagnosis of cancer. 

But the delay was not believed to have had a material effect on Mrs Ketch’s outcome, and she received a four-figure settlement.

Mrs Ketch has responded well to treatment with tablets, which have stopped the growth of her tumour. But she is likely to need more intensive treatment in the future.

She said: “I am stable at present, which means the cancer isn’t growing, which is of course positive, but I don’t like to ask about too far ahead. I know there will be a time when the tablets stop having a positive impact and I may have to look at chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Despite two X-ray checks at Good Hope Hospital in May and June 2019, Ms. Ketch was wrongly given the cancer ‘all-clear’ aged 49. Credit: BPM Media

“But I choose to live in the here and now and not worry. It is how I cope. I’ve also wanted to make sure lessons are learned.”

The misdiagnosis was reported by her consultant, prompting a review by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB), which found around one in five lung cancers were missed on X-rays, which is increasing in non-smokers.

The HSIB also noted: “Media messaging highlighting the close link between lung cancer and smoking, and the often non-specific symptoms of lung cancer, have created a significant diagnostic challenge for GPs.”

Mrs Ketch said: “I think my case highlights how easy it is to slip through the net if you have lung cancer but are otherwise healthy and a non-smoker."

Shauna Page, of Hudgell Solicitors, said: “Tracey has been incredibly brave in how she has handled what happened to her and how she has been fully involved in investigations to help learn and improve healthcare in the future.

“The delay should not have happened, and it was only right that the consultant who spotted this highlighted it and ensured it was taken further and investigated fully.”

A spokesman for University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust said: “We offer a sincere apology to Mrs Ketch, for the failure to identify her cancer sooner. This falls far below our expectations of the care that she should have received from us.

“A full investigation into Mrs Ketch’s delayed diagnosis has been carried out, with the learning shared in full with the specialist team involved in her care and treatment.”