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Tuesday, November 16, 1999 Published at 13:57 GMT


Cancer compensation claim upheld

Two of the women and their solicitor arrive at the Court of Appeal

Three women whose cervical cancer was missed at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital are entitled to compensation, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Solicitor Sarah Harman: "This is a good decision for womens' health"
The trio all had to have their wombs removed after their disease, a rare form of cervical cancer, was not spotted on smear tests.

The ruling could have profound implications for the future of the national screening programmes for both cervical and breast cancer.

Some believe that it will mean far more women being recalled for repeat smears after giving "borderline" samples.

The case concerned cervical screening at the hospital between in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

East Kent Health Authority appealed against an earlier High Court ruling which said screeners were negligent when they missed the three cases of a rare type of cervical cancer.

The BBC's Emily Catto: "The NHS may appeal to the House of Lords"

It said that if the ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeal, it would set impossible standards for the national screening programme to attain.

However, Lord Woolf, delivering the judgement, while conceding that no screening programme could be faultproof, found that in these three cases, it was reasonable that screeners should have spotted the cancers, or been sufficiently suspicious to demand further tests.

The NHS Litigation Authority, which conducted the appeal on behalf of the health authority, is estimated to have spent at least £500,000 fighting the case.

The women are expected to receive compensation in the region of between £20,000 and £50,000 each.

"Thousands wasted"

After the ruling, Sarah Harman, solicitor for the women, described it as a "good decision for women's health".

She said: "We are only sorry it's had to go all the way to the Court of Appeal and many thousands of pounds of legal costs have been spent which could have gone on patient care."

She said that because the case had focused so tightly on three examples of missed cancers at an centre with "appalling" standards, the implications would not be as wide as some believed.

[ image: Kent and Canterbury Hospital: screening failures]
Kent and Canterbury Hospital: screening failures
The three women, Helen Palmer, Sandra Penney and Lesley Cannon, who won the initial High Court case in February, said then that their lives had been destroyed by the blunders.

All developed cervical cancer and required hysterectomies while in their 30s.

None gave evidence at the appeal, as they were too ill to do so.

However, on hearing the verdict, Mrs Cannon said: "I am relieved and delighted that the Court of Appeal has upheld the High Court decision. I have waited three years for compensation and I am still waiting."

Mrs Palmer, who has also been seeking damages for three years, added: "I just hope that this is the end of the matter because I cannot rest until I know that we have finally won the battle."

The health authority was refused leave to the appeal to the House of Lords but can still apply directly to take the case there.

The authority has already paid out approximately £1m in compensation to 57 women whose cervical cancer was missed.

The trust which runs Kent and Canterbury Hospital said in a statement: "We are glad for the three women that they now have a clear result in this part of their claim.

"The appeal was not directed against the women, who have always had our deepest sympathy in this difficult process. The issue has been a national one: the future viability of the National Screening Programme, which saves thousands of lives every year." A government spokesman said: "By bringing the appeal, we were not defending the mismanagement of the cervical screening programme at Kent and Canterbury.

"The law needed to be clarified so that the millions of women who benefit from screening can continue to do so."

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