Consultant says there was no cancer when he removed cyst from nurse

Hospital consultant who performed ‘routine’ surgery to remove a cyst from a nurse, 35, who later died with ovarian cancer tells inquest there were no signs of ‘malignancy’ when he operated

  • Catherine Jones, 35,died in November 2016 after she became unwell again 
  • Dr Eric Njiforfut said he hadn’t suspected any malignancy on the day of surgery

A hospital consultant has defended performing what he regarded as ‘routine surgery’ to remove an ovarian cyst from a nurse who later died after developing cancer.

Catherine Jones, 35, had wanted her right ovary and fallopian tube removing during the procedure in July 2013 – as it had been recommended by a senior gynaecological oncologist who had reviewed her medical notes months earlier and was suspicious of the cyst.

But, giving evidence to an inquest at Ruthin, North Wales, on a video link from Arizona in the US, consultant gynaecologist Dr Eric Njiforfut said he didn’t recall seeing the handwritten recommendation which Philip Toon wrote onto a scan report in November 2012.

Dr Njiforfut said he hadn’t suspected any malignancy on the day of surgery.

If there had been any suspicion, he would have expected Mrs Jones to have been seen earlier within a fortnight, he added.

Catherine Jones, 35, had wanted her right ovary and fallopian tube removing during the procedure in July 2013

Mrs Jones (pictured) died in November 2016 after she became unwell again earlier that year

Mr Njiforfut, who operated on Mrs Jones at Maelor Hospital, in Wrexham, where she was a staff nurse at the cardiology unit, said: ‘It wasn’t unusual to have this (time) lag (for surgery). This was a case where at the time there wasn’t a suspicion of malignancy.’ 

Mr Toon carried out a full hysterectomy in June 2016 and found a large, cancerous tumour weighing 2.5kg (5 ½ lbs). She was wrongly given the all-clear only for cancer to be rediscovered in the September. 

The next month, Mrs Jones was brought back to hospital by her mother ‘in pain’ and ‘bleeding.’ She contracted an infection in hospital at Wrexham and was there until her death.

The inquest heard the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which runs Maelor Hospital, accepted a biopsy taken in 2013 was reported wrongly as ‘benign’ when it had been ‘borderline’ cancerous.

Louis Browne KC, representing Mrs Jones’s husband David, 45, and family, called her death ‘wholly avoidable’.

Mrs Shweta Joshi, at the time a speciality trainee doctor and also involved in the 2013 surgery, said she too hadn’t seen the note of Mr Toon.

In her evidence, Mrs Joshi said there was no up-to-date scan in July 2013 and that Mrs Jones, from Hawarden, near Chester, hadn’t been seen in a clinic.

Earlier senior coroner John Gittins said he didn’t feel it necessary to further examine the circumstances which led to the 2012 biopsy sample being ‘wrongly classified’.

Barrister Daniel Rogers, for the health board, said: ‘The board accepts the histopathology sample was wrongly classified. Treatment would have been different had it been classified differently as a borderline tumour.’

But he added: ‘It’s not proportionate for this court to further investigate that which has been admitted.’

Pictured: Wrexham Maelor Hospital in North Wales, where Mrs Jones worked and had her operation

In today’s hearing, Mr Gittins said: ‘To record a short-form conclusion which could only be natural causes would be wholly inadequate. To describe how Catherine came by her death the likelihood is there will be a narrative conclusion.’

During the first day of the inquest, now retired Mr Toon agreed with a suggestion by Mr Browne, that ‘something has broken down in the chain of communication between 2012 and 2013’.

Mr Toon also accepted Mrs Jones might have survived, had the procedure he’d identified been carried out.

Susan Corness, Mrs Jones’s mother, said in a statement that her life ‘fell apart’ following the death of her daughter.

The inquest, which is due to last all week, continues.

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