Woman who lost career over botched smear test receives millions in damages

The Court of Session. Picture: TSPL
The Court of Session. Picture: TSPL
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A WOMAN who claimed she lost a high-flying career in the City because of bungled smear tests is to receive more than £2 million damages - but only a fraction of the amount her lawyers argued was due to her.

• Helen McGlone sued Greater Glasgow Health Board; damages assessed at £2,026,750

• Dr McGlone told the Court of Session her undetected cervical cancer denied her the chance of career in investment banking

• Dr McGlone’s legal team had been seeking £15-£20 million in damages

Helen McGlone, 32, had to undergo radical surgery and radiotherapy after being diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer in the wake of having been given negative results for two tests.

Dr McGlone had hoped to earn “stratospheric” sums in investment banking but told a court that physical and mental problems following her treatment had denied her the chance to pursue her dream career.

She sued Greater Glasgow Health Board at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, where her legal team submitted that her claim was worth £15 million to £20 million.

However, Lord Bannatyne ruled that there had been only a 30 per cent chance of Dr McGlone’s obtaining a job as a “quant analyst” and he assessed damages for lost earnings, lost pension, and her pain and suffering at a total of £2,026,750. He stopped short of formally making an award, saying he wanted to be addressed on issues such as interest before setting a final figure.

Dr McGlone said: “I am still working through the detail of what has been published today. Only someone who has suffered a serious cancer and the resulting treatment can truly appreciate the pain, fear and loss that come with it. I was fortunate in that I survived, but I certainly had to fight hard to do so. This case is about protecting other women from an atrocious, preventable cancer and I will continue to do everything I can for them.”

Stephen Hay, of Gildeas Solicitors, said: “We are astonished by this decision, based on the witnesses who gave evidence, and we are considering an appeal. In fact, it falls short of being a complete judgment as there is no bottom line figure and there remain multiple open issues.

“Dr McGlone is a young woman of integrity and kindness who has pursued this very difficult litigation through concern for other young women. Since her case has become public, other women have come forward and there are now multiple further confirmed instances of negligence. These involved both screeners and consultants and spanned several hospitals.”

Dr McGlone, of Falkirk, graduated from Glasgow University with first class honours in physics and applied mathematics, and became a researcher at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland as part of her PhD.

In 2008, she had a cervical smear test in Geneva and cancer was discovered. She had had tests in 2005 and 2006 in the Sandyford Initiative clinic in Glasgow, and had been advised they were negative.

The health board admitted negligence in the interpreting of the tests and accepted it was liable to pay compensation but insisted the claim was grossly excessive.

Dr McGlone is no longer able to become a mother naturally, and she still has a claim to be heard against the board for the costs of surrogacy and fertility treatment. She underwent an IVF cycle prior to her cancer treatment so surrogacy could be an option for her in the future.

In his judgment on the job aspects of the case, Lord Bannatyne said Dr McGlone had been nearing the end of her studies, and was about to seek employment when she suffered her injuries.

“She intended to obtain a job in an investment bank or other financial organisation...she alleges she has been deprived of her chance of a very lucrative and very long career...she put forward the possibility of working for a hedge fund with consequential stratospheric earnings,” said Lord Bannatyne.

“I gained the impression of a woman who was driven, highly competitive, calculating, committed to getting on and highly focused. She came from a modest background...and did extremely well at school and university. Overall, I gained the impression she was someone who knew how to get on in the world and was committed to doing so.”

The judge heard that Dr McGlone continued to suffer from “significant psychiatric consequences” of her treatment. She had lost the ability to carry children, which was an extremely important plan for her, and the major surgery and repeated cycles of radiotherapy had caused her great pain and distress.

“She has a profound anger as a direct consequence of her injuries, and the present litigation,” added Lord Bannatyne.

He said he had to consider the likelihood of Dr McGlone’s obtaining a position as a quant in 2008. Her lawyers asserted it was “a certainty”, while the board contended her chances were so small as to amount to mere speculation.

Lord Bannatyne said he was not persuaded that an opinion of virtual certainty given by experts for Dr McGlone could be justified.

“It appears to me that their conclusion is...simply unrealistically optimistic. I am persuaded that, weighing the various factors as best I can, that a 30 per cent chance properly reflects her prospects at that time of obtaining a job as a quant,” he added.