Mother of two faces terminal cancer after nearly 10 years of misdiagnosis by the NHS

Sarah Roch, 43, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2019 and is now terminal (Sarah Roch )
Sarah Roch, 43, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2019 and is now terminal (Sarah Roch )

A woman is battling a terminal cervical cancer diagnosis after an NHS trust misdiagnosed her test results as constipation several times.

Sarah Roch, a 43-year-old mother of two from Plymouth, faced nine years of missed opportunities from 2010 by Derriford Hospital and only discovered she had cervical cancer after a voluntary hysterectomy in 2019.

By the time she was diagnosed - which occurred by accident following her hysterectomy - Ms Roch was told she had late-stage cervical cancer.

Ms Roch, who worked at the same hospital which misdiagnosed her, has had to give up her job to have chemotherapy three times a week.

She is now calling for greater awareness of cervical cancer symptoms and has urged women to seek a second opinion if they feel something isn’t right.

Ms Roch told The Independent: "I want women to be aware of their bodies and to trust their instincts. If women have unexplained vaginal bleeding, leaking or discharge or pain and discomfort in their stomach, womb or lower back and pelvis, get checked out.

“If something doesn’t feel right, please speak up and seek further investigation. No one should go through what I’ve experienced.”

The mother of two from Plymouth worked at the same hospital which misdiagnosed her (Enable Law)
The mother of two from Plymouth worked at the same hospital which misdiagnosed her (Enable Law)

More than 3,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year and around 850 women a year die from the disease – around 51 per cent of those diagnosed will survive for 10 years.

According to an NHS report on cervical cancer screening, uptake dropped to a record low of 68 per cent in March 2023 against a target of 80 per cent among eligible women.

Figures for October to December 2023 suggest the average uptake increased to 70 per cent over this period, however, in some areas, uptake dropped to as low as 55 per cent.

Ms Roch received her first abnormal smear test results in 2010, and again in 2011, 2012 and May 2013. Following the last abnormal smear she was referred to a colonoscopy clinic.

According to Enable Law, the firm which represented Ms Roch in a negligence claim, the trust failed to identify biopsies taken in June 2013 in a “critical error”.

Three years later Ms Roch’s health began to deteriorate and she suffered symptoms such as bloating, indigestion, and bleeding after sexual intercourse.

Ms Roch is urging for greater awareness of cervical cancer symptoms (Enable Law)
Ms Roch is urging for greater awareness of cervical cancer symptoms (Enable Law)

Despite these symptoms Enable Law said the warning signs were “repeatedly dismissed by healthcare providers” who attributed it to constipation.

Her symptoms persisted and she continued to have medical consultations in December 2017. Then she insisted on having a voluntary hysterectomy in 2019, which doctors had advised against, according to her lawyers.

She was then diagnosed with late-stage cervical cancer as the cancer had spread, and after being told her case was terminal she is now undergoing chemotherapy every two weeks.

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust admitted liability in its failure to interpret Ms Roch’s 2013 cervical biopsy results and settled with her in March this year.

Ceri-Ann Taylor, the specialist clinical negligence solicitor at Enable Law who supported Sarah, said: “Sarah’s case underscores the critical need for accurate and timely diagnosis in women’s healthcare. There were multiple missed opportunities by the NHS. If Sarah’s pre-cancerous cells had been recognised and treated she would not have gone on to develop cervical cancer at all, and would have a normal life expectancy.

“Instead, her life will be cut very short, and she will leave behind her much-loved family. Sadly, Sarah’s circumstances are not unusual. I have successfully represented many other women whose abnormal cervical cells have gone undetected in similar circumstances. By sharing Sarah’s story, we hope to prevent future tragedies and ensure that patients receive the care they deserve.”

In response to Ms Roch’s case, the trust said it has put improvements in place to ensure accurate reporting and interpretation of results, implemented regular education sessions for professionals and put in place a requirement for additional examination of cervical screens.

A spokesperson for University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust told The Independent: “We are so very, very sorry and we apologise to Ms Roch and for the distress this has caused to her family. A diagnosis of cancer is devastating, and the trust missed the opportunity to identify precancerous cells in 2013. We wrote to Ms Roch early last year to explain how very sorry we are for the errors in her care, and we reiterate that apology.

“We have made a number of recommendations, including having at least two pathologists examine slides before authorisation of reports given the rare and difficult nature of cervical glandular lesions.”