When to push for medical treatment: Jodie’s story

Jodie first began suffering painful symptoms of bowel cancer in 2009. But another eight years would pass before doctors diagnosed the disease and began to treat it. – due to repeated failings from both her GP and the local hospital.

Thanks to pressure from cases like Jodie’s, a new national clinical care standard was released in late 2018 that will help people access the procedures they need in a timely manner.

Asking for the right medical treatment

When visiting a GP, many people know that something is not right – but they’re not exactly sure of the cause. This can make asking for the right medical treatment difficult. It can be especially hard if English is not your first language, a previous medical treatment showed a negative result or results were not interpreted correctly – meaning follow up care procedures are not followed.

What if my doctor says no?

You are within your rights to ask for a referral to a specialist. If your GP says no, it is worth researching another GP in your area and one that may have specialist training or knowledge on your particular health issue.

Many patients also face lengthy waiting periods after they’ve received a referral, but you are within your rights to ask for a timeframe and push for an early appointment – particularly if you think your condition is not be treated as serious enough. Make sure not to underplay any symptoms you are experiencing that so that your GP and referral specialist understand the full severity of your condition.

Jodie’s story

In 2007, Jodie underwent a colonoscopy to investigate intermittent bleeding but was told there was nothing abnormal in her results.

Over the next few years, Jodie’s condition worsened – but despite undertaking various tests and making significant lifestyle changes - at every visit with her GP, she was told that she simply had haemorrhoids and no further treatment was needed

In May 2015, Jodie was experiencing unbearable pain and demanded to be referred for another colonoscopy. Due to poor hospital procedures and repeated errors, Jodie then waited more than 20 months to see a specialist.

In early 2017, Jodie awoke in recovery to be told she didn’t have haemorrhoids at all – she was fighting Stage 3 bowel cancer.

"I was so shocked — for years I've been told these are haemorrhoids. I could have caught this at stage one, I could have caught this at stage two ... we should have caught it earlier," Jodie said.

Principal Sarah Atkinson says both doctors and hospitals can be held medically negligent for failing to refer patients in appropriate time frames.

"Jodie’s case really stands out as an example of a young person really trying to do the right thing, but who has been terribly let down by the medical profession," Ms Atkinson said.

"If she had had that colonoscopy earlier, we are confident that it would have made a significant difference to her outcome."

New national clinical care standard

In late 2018, the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC) launched a clinical care standard for colonoscopies. These standards cover the entire process from diagnosis to referral and beyond, with a focus on educating GPs.

Pressure from cases like Jodie’s means that other Australians who are experiencing debilitating symptoms with their bowel health can access the right treatment at the right time.

It never hurts to seek a second opinion if you think that your treating GP is not giving you the correct course of action. You know your body better than anyone else, and your peace of mind is important.

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Sarah Atkinson

Maurice Blackburn Sunshine Coast
Sarah Atkinson is a Principal at Maurice Blackburn who manages Queensland legal practices. She is based in Maroochydore and sees clients face-to-face throughout Queensland. Sarah is named by the prestigious Doyle's Guide as a recommended medical negligence lawyer in Queensland. Sarah gained her law ...

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