Family of aspiring model, 27, accuse doctor who mistook her fatal cervical cancer for hormone problems and Covid during lockdown of ‘robbing’ them of their chance to say goodbye
The mother of an aspiring model who died of cervical cancer aged 27 after a doctor mistook her symptoms for hormones told him today ‘You robbed us of the opportunity to say goodbye’.
Porsche ‘Pops’ McGregor-Sims had an ‘aggressive’ form of the disease which had gone undiagnosed for months despite her continual complaints of abdominal pain and bleeding.
Consultant Dr Peter Schlesinger, who examined her three months before she tragically died, failed to physically examine her during pandemic lockdown despite her ‘myriad’ of symptoms.
The graduate passed away in hospital just a day after the cancer was eventually discovered after she was admitted for Covid, which she had not contracted.
On the second day of the hearing into her death today, Miss McGregor-Sims’ family blasted the locum doctor for failing to examine her.
At the inquest in Portsmouth, Hants, her mother Fiona Hawke told him that he was to blame and said he should have physically examined her daughter.
Ms Hawke, 52, said: ‘You robbed us of of the opportunity to prepare for her death and say goodbye to her.’
But Dr Schlesinger, an agency locum doctor specialising in gynaecology who saw her at the city’s Queen Alexandra hospital, insisted her symptoms – including bleeding after sex – did not lead him to think she had a serious illness.
Porsche ‘Pops’ McGregor-Sims had an ‘aggressive’ form of the disease which had gone undiagnosed for months
Porsche’s fiance Mark Chappel kisses her in this poignant picture of the engaged couple
Miss McGregor-Sims had been an aspiring model the inquest was told over its two days
Fiona Hawke, mother of Porsche McGregor-Sims, and Porsche’s twin brother Deucalion at the inquest today
Dr Peter Schlesinger insisted her symptoms – including bleeding after sex – did not lead him to think she had a serious illness.
Cervical cancer was not discovered until a day before death
2017 – Miss McGregor-Sims has her first smear test, which uncovers no cancerous cells – although some are abnormal. No action is taken.
2019 – December she is referred by a GP to a consultant after complaining of abdominal pain and bleeding.
2020 – In late January a doctor says her condition is hormonal, believing it to be related to her stopping taking birth control injections.
2020 – March sees Miss McGregor-Sims have two phone consultations and was prescribed antibiotics after feeling ‘short of breath’.
2020 – April 13 – she is brought into Westlands Medical Centre in Portchester, near Portsmouth, for a face-to-face consultation. She was found to be ‘severely’ short of breath and was rushed to Queen Alexandra Hospital.
2020 – April 14, 2020 – Miss McGregor-Sims dies in hospital.
The 71-year-old – who has previously apologised for failing to spot the disease – said the letter he had received from her GP did not mention either ‘urgency’ or and fears of cancer.
The father-of-four, from Frome, Somerset, said: ‘It was far more likely her symptoms were due to other causes. On the balance of probability – she didn’t have cancer [with the symptoms she described].
‘The vast majority of people with her symptoms do not have cancer.
‘Post-coital bleeding (bleeding after intercourse) was the new part of the story. I listened to the patient, and she told me about the myriad of symptoms she had.
‘Given the recent cessation of hormonal contraception, it was more likely she had bleeding from this than cervical cancer.
‘Married to that, she had a normal smear test and ultrasound – which has a 92 per cent chance of finding cancer – I considered she had dysfunctional uterine bleeding and not cervical cancer.
‘No letter from Porsche’s GP mentioned either the words ‘cancer’ or ‘urgent’.’
Ms Hawke also questioned whether her daughter had mentioned ‘her GP was concerned about cancer’, to which Dr Schlesinger replied: ‘No, and neither had her GP. I had never seen anything [on her record] about cancer.’
Miss McGregor-Sims’ twin brother Deucalion also quizzed the doctor on why he failed to examine his sister.
He said: ‘You have stated repeatedly about how she didn’t have cancerous symptoms so any examination was not on the cards.
Porsche with fiance Mark Chappel in a heartbreaking photo before her cancer was found
Porsche and her twin brother Deucalion on their 24th Birthday three years before she died
What is cervical cancer and how is it detected by a smear test?
The most common symptom is unusual bleeding, such as between periods, during sex or after the menopause, but other signs can include:
- Pain during sex
- Vaginal discharge that smells
- Pain in the pelvis
Causes can include:
- Age – more than half of sufferers are under 45
- HPV infection – which affects most people at some point in their lives
- Smoking – responsible for 21 per cent of cases
- Contraceptive pill – linked to 10 per cent of cases
- Having children
- Family history of cervical or other types of cancer, like vagina
A smear test detects abnormal cells on the cervix, which is the entrance to the uterus from the vagina.
Removing these cells can prevent cervical cancer.
Most test results come back clear, however, one in 20 women show abnormal changes to the cells of their cervix.
In some cases, these need to be removed or can become cancerous.
Cervical cancer most commonly affects sexually-active women aged between 30 and 45.
In the UK, the NHS Cervical Screening Programme invites women aged 25-to-49 for a smear every three years, those aged 50 to 64 every five years, and women over 65 if they have not been screened since 50 or have previously had abnormal results.
In the US, tests start when women turn 21 and are carried out every three years until they reach 65.
Changes in cervical cells are often caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which can be transmitted during sex.
‘You also said you didn’t have a chaperone [in the room] and, if you did have a chaperone, you probably would have done an examination.
‘Did you ever offer her an examination? I spoke with her [Porsche] and she said the very suggestion of an examination was completely dismissed.’
Dr Schlesinger responded: ‘I might have been more likely to examine her with a chaperone, as it would have been much easier than going to look for one, as I didn’t feel it was useful and it would have delayed the clinic.’
‘That was unfortunate in this situation, wasn’t it?,’ Deucalion replied.
‘Because she had cancer and she died.’
The inquest heard Miss McGregor-Sims – who was engaged to be married – underwent her first smear in 2017.
Although the test uncovered no cancerous cells she was told some had been found to be ‘abnormal’, the inquest heard. No further action was taken.
Two years later she started to complain of abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding and in December 2019 her GP referred her to see a consultant.
She saw Dr Schlesinger at the end of January 2020.
Only weeks before McGregor-Sims’ death – as Britain entered the first coronavirus lockdown – she was prescribed antibiotics over the phone for her condition, the inquest has been told.
She was seen by a doctor in person only after the GP thought her shortness of breath meant she had Covid.
The events management graduate was immediately rushed to the QA where an aggressive form of cervical cancer was diagnosed.
She died a day later on April 14. 2020.
Miss McGregor-Sims – who had done modelling shoots – had studied drama at Havant and South Downs College in Hampshire before going to Plymouth University to study Events Management.
She met fiancé Mark Chappel whilst at university, and the pair moved back to Portsmouth after finishing their studies.
Dirk Brinkmann, a consultant at Queen Alexandra Hospital who briefly saw Miss McGregor-Sims before her death, told the inquest the 27-year-old could have lived up to ’24 months’ longer if a colposcopy test had been done sooner.
Mr Brinkmann, the clinical lead in gynaecology oncology, also insisted that the lack of a chaperone should not have been a reason for Dr Schlesinger to delay carrying out a physical examination of her.
He added that in 17 years at the city hospital a chaperone had always been available to him in such circumstances.
Mr Brinkmannn told the hearing: ‘In the best case scenario, if Porsche was examined in January, she could have had a colposcopy (a visual vaginal examination using a colposcope) and a biopsy the same day.
‘She could have potentially been treated the next week. The next step would have been chemotherapy.
‘There would have been a reasonable expectation she would have responded to the chemo.
‘The survival rate for stage four cervical cancer [which Porsche had] is less than ten per cent.
‘But, if they respond well to chemo, the median survival is on average about 24 months.’
Area Coroner Mrs Rosamund Rhodes-Kemp added: ‘At best, for Porsche, she would have had a colposcopy and been put on the fast track.
‘She would have had probably a 70 per cent estimated chance of surviving… possibly longer than 24 months depending on her response to the chemo.’
Mr Brinkmann told the inquest Miss McGregor-Sims’ cancer had likely begun spreading around her body around 15 months before her death.
‘We know that cervical cancer goes through a very long pre-malignant phase when it has no ability to invade or spread, and you can usually treat it by cutting it out.
‘Once it becomes a cancer it invades and spreads. It manifests itself quickly.
‘Porsche had her symptoms for about 15 months [before she died], and this is likely when it became a true cancer.’
On the subject of chaperones, Mr Brinkmann said patients can be examined without a chaperone if the patient consents, and the lack of a chaperone should not be a reason not to do a physical examination.
He added: ‘We have dedicated chaperones in our clinic. They are not always on tap and we may have to wait a couple of minutes, but I have never been in a situation in 17 years where I have not examined somebody due to a lack of a chaperone.
‘I have never done an examination without a chaperone, but you could do it with the patient’s consent.
‘The guidance states patients should be offered a chaperone or given the option of not having one, because not everyone wants one.’
The inquest continues.