Women with cancer were dismissed and mis-diagnosed by GPs, often with tragic consequences.
That’s the conclusion of a Senedd report into gynaecological cancers, which has called for change in the way Welsh GPs assess and refer women who present with cancer symptoms.
Around 1,200 people a year are diagnosed with gynaecological cancers in Wales but the report found many of them were initially told they had more common conditions such as IBS or menopausal issues, leading to harmful delays in their treatment.
Claire O’Shea, 41, repeatedly visited her GP but was told her symptoms were not serious. Only after seeing a female GP was she referred for cancer testing.
She was then told she had stage four cancer which had spread to her lungs, liver and hip bone.
She told ITV Wales’s Sharp End programme: “My experience is awful but it doesn’t have to happen to someone else.
“Other people can get diagnosed early, can get the treatment they need and can be 41 and looking forward to a long life, not 41 and wondering if they’ll be alive next Christmas.”
Claire is calling on the Welsh Government to act on the report’s findings to ensure lessons are learned from her suffering, and she will continue to campaign despite her ill-health: “I’ll be glad if I can make change, however long I’m around.”
Sadly, the report by the Senedd’s Health and Social Care Committee has come too late for many women who have already been let down by the system.
Judith Rowlands from Anglesey gave evidence to the committee via a pre-recorded video which was played to MSs.
She detailed the harrowing experience of visiting her doctor, only to be told her pain was normal and something she would have to learn to live with.
In the video, Mrs Rowlands said: “He (a doctor) told me that everybody has problems in life and my problem was the pain, and that I needed to find a way to manage and live my life with the pain.
“He said to me, ‘what do you think Christ was thinking when he was on the Cross?”
Two weeks after her evidence was heard in the Senedd, Judith passed away from the cancer which a GP had believed was pain brought on by the menopause.
Judith’s daughter, Sioned Cash, told Sharp End: “I know Mam wanted to help others who sadly find themselves in similar situations. She shared her story even up to the last weeks of her life so that improvements could be made for women facing gynaecological cancers in the future.
“I hope that these concerns can be taken seriously by those who can affect change.”
The report said gender bias had seen many women’s concerns attributed to emotional or psychological issues. It recommended improved education and support for GPs, as well as greater focus on research into women’s health issues.
Health Minister Eluned Morgan MS said: “There are about 1,000 people in Wales that suffer with gynaecological cancers every year and the vast majority of them have reported they think the service works well but it’s failing too many people.”
The Health Minister said the government was focusing on gynaecological cancers specifically, and the government is also working on a Women’s Health Plan for Wales, which will aim to address inequalities between men and women in healthcare.
She said: “It can’t be the case that women are dismissed when they have a sense that things are really not where they should be.
“We do need GPs to get that understanding that actually they have to take women far more seriously.”
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know…