The NHS specialist told me I just had piles… why didn’t he realise it was colon cancer?
A shocking blunder nearly cost young mother Nancy Elvin her life… Just over a year ago, Nancy Elvin was enjoying life as a busy mother looking after her three small children, one of whom was newly born.
Today, the 28-year-old is in recovery from the bowel cancer that spread through her abdomen to her liver and right lung. She has endured two major operations — one lasted ten-and-a-half hours — as well as two debilitating cycles of chemotherapy.
‘I look back over the past year and, despite the scars across my stomach, I sometimes have trouble believing what has happened to me,’ says Nancy, mother to Poppy, five, Brianna, three, and baby Rosie, now one. ‘It has been such a traumatic time. Instead of enjoying being a mum to my lovely daughters, I have been left with the pain of not knowing if I will live to see them grow up.’
Nancy’s agony has been compounded by the knowledge her cancer was misdiagnosed as haemorrhoids by a gastric surgeon a vital four months before the cancer was finally discovered in December 2009.
‘Losing those four months might have cost me my life,’ she says. ‘It probably gave the cancer enough time to spread from my bowel to my liver, which in turn means my prognosis is not as good as it would have been. Of everything that’s happened, that misdiagnosis is the one thing that makes me angry.’
It was near the end of her third pregnancy when she noticed the first worrying symptoms. ‘I began passing blood from my bowels,’ explains Nancy, a pharmacy assistant who lives on the Isle of Man with her husband Chris, 30, a pharmacist. ‘It happened suddenly and carried on for a few days. Chris and I are both well aware that any blood in your stools should be investigated, so I went straight to my GP.’
A blood test showed her iron levels were very low, so she was admitted to hospital for a blood transfusion. ‘While I was there, a gastric surgeon was also called to investigate my rectal bleeding.’
Although her mother had developed bowel cancer at 41, Nancy didn’t realise that someone her age could get the disease, so didn’t mention the family link. It also seems the family link was not passed on by her GP, either.
In any case, the surgeon decided not to carry out a colonoscopy — an internal investigation involving a tiny camera being inserted into the large bowel and up into the small intestine, which sits below the stomach. But instead, Nancy was given a sigmoidoscopy, a much less invasive — but less thorough — procedure, where just a section of the large intestine was examined. ‘Almost immediately, he announced that he had found some haemorrhoids,’ says Nancy. ‘He removed them and told me I could go home.
‘I still had some nagging concerns, as I didn’t feel myself. But I assumed my incredible tiredness and haemorrhoids were down to the pregnancy. And the bleeding did stop, so it made sense that this was the cause.’
But by two weeks before her due date, Nancy was so exhausted her obstetrician agreed to give her a Caesarean and Rosie was delivered on September 19. Nancy continued to feel unwell for weeks afterwards. ‘I had constant flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and night sweats. I soldiered on until one night in early December, when I discovered I was haemorrhaging from my bottom. Chris drove me to A&E the next morning.’
Doctors suspected she had ulcerative colitis, where the lining of the bowel becomes inflamed and ulcerated. ‘This time they carried out a full colonoscopy,’ recalls Nancy. ‘I remember watching on the screen as the scope went up. I saw a black bulging mass and the doctors started taking biopsies from it. My heart just sank. I knew I was in trouble.’
Shortly afterwards, a consultant broke the news that it was cancer. Worse, a CT scan revealed it had spread to her liver, causing two large tumours.
‘I was in total shock, completely numb. I think I was crying but I do remember saying: “That’s it then, I’ve had it.” ‘My first thought was one of total devastation that my children, still so young, probably wouldn’t even remember me in a few years’ time.
‘Poor Chris couldn’t listen to any more and had to leave the room. I think the doctor, too, was shocked at how young I was and how far the cancer had spread. ‘I was also angry that the first consultant had not been thorough enough. Once he had found the piles, he thought that was the answer, even though I had very low iron levels which indicated quite significant bleeding. The blood was also dark red, which doesn’t occur with haemorrhoids. ‘The consultant clearly thought I was too young to get bowel cancer, but doctors should assume the worst case scenario to be on the safe side.’
Indeed, bowel cancer is mainly a problem for the over-50s. However, about 2,000 younger people are diagnosed with the condition every year, making it a relatively common cancer for that age group.
‘The tragedy is that if bowel cancer is caught in the early stages, it is extremely treatable and you have a 90 per cent chance of living past five years. But by the time it has spread outside the bowel that rate drops to 47 per cent.
Two weeks before Christmas 2009, Nancy underwent a five-hour operation to remove a third of her small intestine. Afterwards, she was in a great deal of pain.
Last February, Nancy began six sessions of chemotherapy for one day every two weeks, with awful side-effects — her skin became extremely irritated and painful. But it shrank the liver and lung tumours, which were removed in June in the ten-and-a-half-hour operation. She then underwent a second round of chemotherapy.
‘If it hadn’t been for friends and our church helping out, I have no idea how we would have coped,’ she says.
British PM brands NHS ‘second-rate’ in gaffe as he announces biggest shake-up in health service history
A gaffe is often the truth inadvertently slipping out
David Cameron faced an embarrassing political row today after branding the NHS ‘second rate’ as he launched the biggest shake-up of the service in its history.
The remarks came during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme as he attempted to promote his flagship policy. ‘I don’t think we should put up with a second rate – with coming second best,’ he said, quickly correcting himself. ‘We should aim to be the best.’
He said later: ‘I think if you listen to the interview, I immediately said we shouldn’t settle for second best and that is exactly what I meant to say. ‘I speak often quickly, I don’t just have a pre-arranged order of saying things and sometimes you can get a little word out of place and I immediately said, if you listen to the clip, we shouldn’t settle for second best, that was the point I was making.’
Asked if he would apologise, he added: ‘We shouldn’t settle for second best is what I meant, it’s largely what I said, if you skip over a quick word in the middle.’
The gaffe threatened to overshadow Mr Cameron’s announcement of legislation that will see the biggest shake-up of the NHS. During the announcement, the Prime Minister said that failure to modernise was draining resources away from the public sector.
In a keynote speech at the Royal Society of Arts in London, he dismissed suggestions that services could carry on as they were as ‘a complete fiction’. He said: ‘Every year without modernisation the costs of our public services escalate. ‘Demand rises, the chains of commands can grow, costs may go up, inefficiencies become more entrenched. ‘Pretending that there is some “easy option” of sticking with the status quo and hoping that a little bit of extra money will smooth over the challenges is a complete fiction.
‘We need modernisation, on both sides of the equation. Modernisation to do something about the demand for healthcare, which is about public health. ‘And modernisation to make the supply of healthcare more efficient, which is about opening up the system, being competitive and cutting out waste and bureaucracy. ‘Put another way: it’s not that we can’t afford to modernise; it’s that we can’t afford not to modernise.’
Leading doctors and nurses criticised the reforms labelling them ‘potentially disastrous’. Representatives of the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing joined forces to warn about the dangers of committing to greater competition between the health service and private companies. In a letter to The Times, they said: ‘There is clear evidence that price competition in healthcare is damaging.’
Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s GPs Committee, warned there was ‘chaos developing around the country’ ahead of the reforms to the NHS. He said: ‘We were told before the election that there would be no further reorganisations of the NHS and yet we are just about to embark on one of the biggest reorganisations in 60 years. ‘We’re already seeing Primary Care Trusts imploding and GP groups are having to step up to the mark to fill the gap that is being left behind just to keep the NHS running.
‘This is chaos developing around the country. It’s a great concern because the primary plank of the reforms is to increase competition and improve the opportunities for large multinational companies to take a stake in running and providing services within the NHS. That’s not good for patients.’
Mr Cameron today defended the reforms, saying there was no ‘quiet life option’ when it came to patient treatment improvement. He said: ‘Firstly, it’s right to start the process of change now. I’ve looked back on the previous government – they waited too long before introducing changes that were necessary and that would improve services. ‘The second point is this is being introduced steadily. We are not asking GPs to take on new responsibilities for two years.’
A report by the NHS Confederation, which represents trusts, said the wholesale reorganisation of the Health Service could see hospitals forced to close. It claimed that if GPs start sending patients to private health companies, NHS services will have to shut down. And it warned that the tough financial outlook will see family doctors having to ration care for their patients. The report concluded: ‘The absence of any compelling story about why the reforms are necessary or how they will translate into improved outcomes is of concern.’
One Lib Dem MP told the Observer: ‘There are three scenarios: it could be a disaster; it could be just about OK; or it could work. ‘I can’t think of a major reform where so many have regarded the outcome as uncertain.’
Britain’s Borders ‘made less secure by Labour’ say frontline staff
Britain’s border guards have delivered a damning verdict on Labour’s supposedly ‘tough’ immigration system. In an official survey, nearly three quarters of staff working on the front line said the changes made the border less secure.
But migrants asked their views on the system – attacked for allowing arrivals to spiral out of control – were overwhelmingly in favour. More than 80 per cent of visa applicants said the system was fair, easy to understand and ‘user-friendly’. Businesses and universities bringing migrants in to work or study in Britain were similarly in favour.
Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the MigrationWatch UK think tank said: ‘We have long had concerns about the effectiveness of the points based system in controlling the scale of immigration to Britain.’ ‘The fact that immigrants themselves are very happy with it, and immigration officers are not serves to underline the view that the system needs fundamental reassessment.’
The Australian-style points system, introduced by Gordon Brown, was intended to cut arrivals from outside the EU, with numbers of economic migrants expected to fall by as much as 12 per cent. But it was branded ‘shambolic’ after analysis showed that economic migration actually increased by 20 per cent, while the number of foreign students went up by more than 30 per cent.
Less than a year after it was brought in, ministers were forced to suspend applications from several countries, including Bangladesh and Nepal, because of fears student routes were being abused by economic migrants.
In just twelve months the number of visas issued in Bangladesh increased by 645 per cent. At the time, some border staff watching arrivals at UK ports and airports reported migrants arriving who could barely speak English, despite having met supposedly strict admission criteria.
The Home Office survey of nearly 2000 immigration staff was carried between April and May last year.
Around half of all UK Border Agency staff – including backroom workers tasked with processing applications – said the country’s borders appeared less secure since the system was brought in. But that view was held by 71 per cent of Border Force staff who work on the front line.
The survey also suggested the system was rushed in, with just 14 per cent of Border Force staff saying they were properly prepared for its introduction.
The highest approval rates – approaching 90 per cent – were seen in Tier One of the points system, which issued visas to ‘highly skilled’ workers allowed to come to Britain even if they didn’t have a secure job offer.
Figures emerged recently showing just one in four of those coming in through Tier One was able to secure a ‘highly skilled’ occupation. Nearly one in three were either unemployed or working as supermarket cashiers, security guards or call centre staff.
Of 6,796 migrants, 82 per cent of those in Tier One said they were satisfied with the system, 81 per cent of skilled migrants coming in through Tier 2, and 79 per cent of young and temporary workers admitted under Tier 5.
Businesses and universities bringing in migrants to work and study gave the scheme an 86 per cent approval rate.
Ministers have pledged to cut net migration – the difference between the numbers arriving and those leaving – from more than 200,000 last year to less than 100,000 by 2015.
In an unprecedented crackdown the number of economic migrants arriving from outside the EU will be permanently capped from later this year, and both student visa numbers and totals coming here to marry will be slashed.
‘Now some people are more equal than others’: Despair of Christian hotel owners penalised for turning away homosexuals
Two Christian hotel owners punished for refusing a bed to a gay couple claimed yesterday that their religion is being suppressed. Peter and Hazelmary Bull said Christianity had been pushed to the margins of society, and added: ‘Some people are more equal than others.’
They spoke out after a landmark court decision awarded £1,800 each to civil partners Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy, who were denied a double room under the Bulls’ policy of allowing only married couples to share a bed in the hotel that is also their home.
The ruling by a judge in Bristol sealed the supremacy of gay rights over Christian belief under the Sexual Orientation Regulations pushed through by Tony Blair four years ago.
The laws prevent discrimination against homosexuals by businesses and state organisations, but have had the knock-on effect of requiring Christians who run small concerns to set their principles and beliefs aside if they wish to stay in business.
And Judge Andrew Rutherford also broke new ground by insisting that in the eyes of the law there is no difference between a civil partnership and a marriage.
Although civil partnership conveys precisely the same rights and privileges on a gay couple as marriage does on heterosexuals, the Labour ministers who introduced civil partnerships always said they were merely contracts and did not amount to marriage. But the judge said: ‘There is no material difference between marriage and a civil partnership.’
His ruling may lead to a long legal battle if the Bulls appeal, with a possibility that the case will go as far as the country’s highest tribunal, the Supreme Court.
The Bulls were sued over their married-only policy on double beds. They were ordered to pay each of the victims £1,800 in compensation for the ‘hurt and embarrassment they suffered’.
Outside court, Mrs Bull said the verdict had serious implications for the religious liberty of Christians who would be forced to act against ‘deeply and genuinely held beliefs’. The 66-year-old and her husband, 70, live at the seven-bedroom Chymorvah Private Hotel near Penzance, Cornwall, and have only ever allowed married couples to share a double room since they opened for business 25 years ago.
They had accepted a booking for a double room from Mr Preddy, 38, believing he would be staying with his wife. It was only when he arrived at the £80-a-night hotel with his 46-year-old civil partner that they were turned away.
IT workers Mr Preddy and Mr Hall described themselves as feeling ‘angry and humiliated’ and contacted police, who helped them find alternative accommodation. The two men deny suggestions that their booking was a set-up on behalf of gay rights group Stonewall, which had previously written to the hotel owners about their rules.
Mrs Bull said: ‘Our double-bed policy was based on our sincere beliefs about marriage, not hostility to anybody. It was applied equally and consistently to unmarried heterosexual couples and homosexual couples, as the judge accepted.’
Their legal battle was aided by the Christian Institute think tank, while Mr Preddy and Mr Hall were supported by the taxpayer-funded state equality body the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Mr and Mrs Bull, who have previously admitted they are struggling to pay debts, are facing financial ruin after being ordered to pay most of the costs of the commission. Mr Hall and Mr Preddy, from Bristol, had asked for £5,000 damages, claiming sexual orientation discrimination.
In his 12-page ruling, Judge Rutherford said that in the past 50 years social attitudes had changed. He added that the Bulls ‘have the right to manifest their religion or beliefs’ and said both sides in the case ‘hold perfectly honourable and respectable, albeit wholly contrary, views’. However, he concluded that the Bulls ‘discriminate on the basis of marital status’.
‘There is no material difference between marriage and a civil partnership. If that is right, then upon what basis do the defendants draw a distinction if it is not on sexual orientation? The only conclusion which can be drawn is that the refusal to allow [the claimants] to occupy the double room which they had booked was because of their sexual orientation and that this is direct discrimination.’
But Mike Judge, of the Christian Institute, said: ‘This ruling is further evidence that equality laws are being used as a sword rather than a shield. Christians are being sidelined.’
It’s marriage, not paternity leave, that gives British children the best start
Does marriage matter? Not to the Deputy Prime Minister, it would seem. Setting out his vision of family policy this week, Nick Clegg said that government ministers should not ‘preach’ to parents about marriage — what mattered, instead, was helping them make their relationships work.
And yet, how I wish somebody would preach about marriage. How I yearn for a politician (or even an archbishop) to start banging the drum for the greatest family institution of all.
They could enthuse about the deep companionship and trust marriage brings, its safety and refuge, its strength and support, its humour and grace.
How I long for Nick Clegg — presumably desperate to recover ground after the tuition fees debacle and make what political capital he can from pushing the equality agenda forward — to make a speech, instead, where he tells us how worthwhile marriage is, how it is the ideal framework in which to bring up children and therefore the one to which we should all aspire.
He won’t, of course. But he will say that he backs plans to allow fathers to take up to six months’ maternity leave (increasing to ten months by 2015).
This seems to me to exemplify his muddled thinking. It will benefit only a small proportion of the population — mothers who are married to men with freelance jobs who earn less than they do.
For the rest, I don’t see many men wanting to risk taking so much time out of their career. A man who wants to spend ten months at home with his baby is a very rare beast, in my experience (or, more likely, a liar).
Meanwhile, one of America’s foremost campaigners for increased maternity leave is warning women that taking too much time can be counterproductive: taking any longer than six months seems likely to fatally set back your prospects of pay and promotion.
Indeed, isn’t it about time that both men and women grew up a little? Four out of six mothers work today, compared with one in six in 1951. If your job matters to you, then don’t take more than six months’ maternity leave — and don’t expect your husband to, either.
It doesn’t mean you can’t still be a good mother. And the benefits of the workplace — an engaged brain and another dimension to your world — are more than financial.
Besides, since when did we get the notion that we’re all entitled to an easy life? Yes, it’s hard to be a working mother — but it’s not impossible.
It requires determination, a willingness to invest in the best childcare you can afford, and a recognition that you will need to abandon any meaningful social life when your children are small.
But most of all, it requires a supportive husband. And if Nick Clegg really wants to improve the nation’s parenting, he should forget about paternity leave and concentrate instead on a truly radical policy: promoting marriage.
By all means adopt some of the proposals put forward by Demos — the Left-wing think-tank whose latest report Clegg was endorsing.
Broadening the role of health visitors, using ante-natal classes to prepare new parents for the strain a new baby will place on their relationship, and offering a parenting ‘booster’ class to parents when their child starts primary school are all excellent ideas.
But the wisest idea of all is the oldest and the simplest: to take that leap of faith and make a public commitment to love and honour each other until death.
It’s not the product of any think-tank. But I’m quite sure that it’s one of the best things we can ever do — for ourselves, for our society and, most importantly of all, for our children.
30,000 British schoolkids branded as bigots
More than 10,000 primary school pupils in a single year have been labelled racist or homophobic over minor squabbles. Even toddlers in nursery classes are being penalised for so-called hate crimes such as using the words ‘white trash’ or ‘gaylord’.
Schools are forced to report their language to education authorities, which keep a register of incidents. This leads to at least 30,000 primary and secondary pupils per year being effectively classed as bigots because of anti-bullying rules.
The school can also keep the pupil’s name and ‘offence’ on file. The record can be passed from primaries to secondaries or when a pupil moves between schools at the request of the new head.
And if schools are asked for a pupil reference by a future employer or a university, the record could be used as the basis for it, meaning the pettiest of incidents has the potential to blight a child for life.
Figures for the year 2008-9 were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the civil liberties group, the Manifesto Club. They show 29,659 racist incidents reported by schools to local education authorities in England and Wales. Of these, 10,436 were at primary schools and 41 at nursery schools.
Birmingham City Council had the highest number of any authority, with 1,607 racist incidents, compared with only two each in the Vale of Glamorgan and Hartlepool.
In the majority of cases, the ‘racist’ spats involved mere name-calling. Yet in 51 cases police became involved, with Hertfordshire schools turning to officers for help in 38 incidents, according to the Manifesto Club report which will be published shortly.
A spotlight on just 15 LEAs discovered 341 homophobic incidents logged by schools in 2008-9, including 120 at primaries. A staggering 112 such incidents were reported in Barnet, North London.
At one primary, teachers filled out an incident form after three Year Four pupils, aged eight or nine, told a classmate he was ‘gay’ and could not play with them.
The Manifesto Club report’s author, Adrian Hart, said: ‘I feel that childhood itself is under attack. It’s absolutely the case that these policies misunderstand children quite profoundly. ‘Racist incident reporting generates the illusion of a problem with racism in Britain’s schools by trawling the everyday world of playground banter, teasing, childish insults – the sort of things that every teacher knows happens out there in the playground.’
Schools were required by the Labour government in 2002 to monitor and report all racist incidents to their local authority after the introduction of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act in 2000. Teachers must name the alleged perpetrator and victim and spell out the incident and the punishment. Local authority records show the type of incident but not the name of the child involved.
LEAs are expected to monitor the number of incidents, look for patterns and plan measures to tackle any perceived problems. Heads who send in ‘nil’ returns are criticised for ‘under-reporting’. In March 2007, the Commons Education Select Committee called for schools to record all types of bullying, including homophobic and disability-related. LEAs also began demanding that schools report their homophobia data, alongside racist incidents, although not all do so.
Labour had also planned to make reporting ‘hate taunting’ statutory for every school but the policy is under review by the Coalition.
Work experience now essential for most British graduate jobs
More than 45 students are expected to compete for each graduate job this year amid record demand for the most sought-after positions, according to research.
At least half of Britain’s biggest employers are reporting a surge in the number of applications being submitted for skilled jobs, it was disclosed.
The study warned that competition is now so fierce that many companies are refusing to consider graduates – even the very brightest – unless they have completed relevant work experience.
An estimated third of this year’s vacancies will be filled by applicants who have already worked for the employer as an undergraduate.
The disclosure will fuel fears that degree results and A-level grades alone are no longer enough to satisfy prospective employers.
Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, which carried out the study, said: “The class of 2011 will be disappointed to hear that graduate recruitment has yet to return to the pre-recession levels seen in 2007, especially as there are an estimated 50,000 extra graduates leaving university in 2011 compared with four years ago.
“Today’s report includes the stark warning that in this highly competitive graduate job market, new graduates who’ve not had any work experience during their time at university have little or no chance of landing a well-paid job with a leading employer, irrespective of the university they’ve attended or the academic results they achieve.”
Researchers surveyed 100 leading graduate employers, including the Civil Service, KPMG, Marks & Spencer, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Tesco and Vodafone.
It found that the number of graduate jobs will increase by 9.4 per cent in 2011 compared with 2010, when 15,563 students took up positions. But the survey warned that recruitment levels were still far short of job numbers offered in 2007 – before the recession hit.
As record numbers of students prepare to graduate from university this year, most organisations reported a rise in applications for skilled jobs.
Despite the recession, the average graduate salary will be set at £29,000 this year. Average pay at investment banks will rocket by 10 per cent in 2011, with new employees being offered basic packages of up to £50,000.
Outside the City, the biggest salaries are being offered by the supermarket chain Aldi which pays trainee area managers a first year salary of £40,000.
Statins ‘may cause loss of memory and depression’
And that’s not half of it. Many people given statins decide that they would rather take the risk of a heart attack than continuing to take them
Cholesterol-lowering pills taken by millions of Britons may cause memory loss and depression, researchers warn. They say not enough is known about the level of harm posed by statins, prescribed to prevent heart disease and strokes. Leading doctors say that the drugs should only be taken by patients for whom the benefits of the drug outweigh any potential risks.
More than seven million people in Britain now take statins – as many as one in three adults over the age of 40. They are extremely effective in lowering levels of cholesterol, the fatty substance in the blood that clogs up arteries leading to heart attacks and strokes. Many people over the age of 45 are routinely prescribed statins by their GPs if they have slightly high blood pressure or cholesterol.
In addition low-dose pills are increasingly bought over the counter without a prescription. Although they have been proven to be extremely effective – saving up to 10,000 lives a year – researchers warn that not enough is known about their risks.
They warn statins should only be prescribed to those with heart disease, or who have suffered the condition in the past. Researchers warn that unless a patient is at high risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke, statins may cause more harm than good.
The study, published in the Cochrane Library, which reviews drug trials, also points out that the vast majority of trials have been carried out by drugs companies who may play-down any possible risks. Some patients taking statins have suffered from short-term memory loss, depression and mood swings.
Previous studies have also linked the medication to a greater risk of liver dysfunction, acute kidney failure, cataracts and muscle damage known as myopathy.
The researchers examined data from 14 drugs trials involving 34,000 patients. They found that although the drugs did prevent heart attacks and strokes, there was not enough evidence to prescribe them to patients with no previous history of heart disease.
Professor Shah Ebrahim, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: ‘When you put the evidence together you certainly find it supports the use of statins. But we found that evidence of potential harm is not being taken seriously. ‘The adverse effects are not included in the trials.’
Lead researcher Dr Fiona Taylor, added: ‘The decision to prescribe statins in this group [who have no history of heart disease] should not be taken lightly.’
Amy Thompson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘This systematic review echoes what we already know – that statins have huge benefits for people with heart and circulatory disease, or those who are high risk – they help to reduce the risk of heart disease including heart attacks.
‘It is still unclear whether statins provide any real benefits for people without heart and circulatory disease and who are at low risk.’