A Derby mum who suffered “17 years of pain” after her endometriosis went undiagnosed has received £500,000 in compensation.
Frances Bell, who lives in Mickleover, was just 14 when she first attended a gynaecology appointment in 1997 with symptoms of endometriosis – a condition where tissue similar to that in the lining of the womb grows elsewhere.
Despite having endometriosis symptoms including cramping and serious pain when she went to the toilet, it was put down to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Ms Bell eventually received a diagnosis in 2014, but by then she was unable to conceive naturally and needed extensive surgery.
Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust said it was “truly sorry” for the delay and awarded Ms Bell the out of court settlement after admitting it should have performed the correct procedures years earlier.
Ms Bell, now 37, said: “When I was told, as a 14-year-old, that my classic endometriosis symptoms were exaggerated and imaginary, I felt forced to accept it.
“This led to 17 years of pain, misery, and an eventual diagnosis of infertility, which has devastated the lives of myself, my family, and my now husband: a situation that could so easily have been prevented.
“I have to live with the consequences, caused by a total lack of investigation by two medical professionals, who were condescending about me in letters on my medical file.”
Ms Bell attended numerous hospital and GP appointments due to severe stabbing pains and pain during bowel movements, and despite a gynaecology assessment in 2001 at the trust she was not referred for a laparoscopy, a surgical diagnostic procedure used to examine the organs inside the abdomen).
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A laparoscopy is a common procedure used to diagnose and remove mild to moderate endometriosis, and Ms Bell says she raised her concerns about the condition to the consultant at the time.
However, she was told she had IBS following the consultations, and it was not until she was 31 – by which time the disease had reached its most serious stage – that she was correctly diagnosed.
After Ms Bell had stopped taking contraception to prepare to try for a baby, the pain became so severe that she was forced to attend A&E, where she was then referred for further assessments.
A laparoscopy was undertaken in 2015 and it was discovered that she had Grade 4 endometriosis, which had spread around her ovary and bowel and caused multiple adhesions.
It was then that she was told she would be unable to conceive naturally.
Ms Bell says she will now have to undergo a hysterectomy and bowel resection as a result of the disorder.
Despite surgery, she will continue to suffer with urgency with defecation and urination, chronic pelvic pain and bladder pain, and premature ovarian failure.
Ms Bell did however manage to successfully become pregnant through IVF and her beautiful son Harry was born in 2018.
She added: “Fortunately, we had our happy ending, as our beautiful son Harry was born in 2018, following IVF.”
Nottingham University Hospitals Trust medical director, Dr Keith Girling, said: “We are very sorry that the care Ms Bell received in 2001 fell below the normal standard we would expect for our patients.
“Had we correctly diagnosed her endometriosis earlier some of her distress could have been avoided, and for that we are truly sorry.
“Our organisation sets itself high standards in terms of the care we deliver, and we are committed to learning and improving.
“Over the last 19 years a lot has changed at our Trust including practice in relation to diagnostic laparoscopy, for which we follow the 2017 NICE guidelines.”
Ms Bell was represented by Leigh Day medical negligence solicitor, Stephen Jones, who argued that the medical staff should have realised that a diagnosis of endometriosis could not have been excluded.
The solicitor said they should have then carried out a laparoscopy which would have led to the correct diagnosis and treatment.
NUH argued, however, that Ms Bell also suffered from irritable bowel syndrome and that it was this which was responsible for the bulk of her problems rather than the endometriosis.
Leigh Day solicitor Stephen Jones added: “It was quite shocking to me that Frances’ complaints were not taken seriously at the outset.”
Endometriosis UK says around 1.5m women are living with the condition in the UK alone.
The chronic and debilitating condition is caused by the cells in the lining of the womb (uterus) build up in areas such as the falopian tubes, however these cells have nowhere to escape and cannot leave the body as a period.
The charity says it is very common for the condition to be misdiagnosed.
Endometriosis UK chief executive, Emma Cox, said: “Frances’ story is sadly one we have heard all too often. Whilst symptoms such as chronic pelvic pain and very painful periods may be the symptoms of other conditions, they are classic symptoms of endometriosis.
“The first NICE Guidelines on Endometriosis were published in 2017, and are clear that endometriosis must be suspected with one or more of the key symptoms – chronic pelvic pain, very painful periods, painful sex, bowel or bladder problems.
“The NICE Guidelines need to be fully implemented so no one else finds themselves in the same unfortunate position that Frances has.
“Women’s pelvic pain must be taken seriously, and the correct cause identified so that appropriate treatment can be given.”