Moza Ali Hill, of Stow, was aged 65 when she first visited her GP in January 2012 suffering from an array of relatively mild symptoms typical of TB, including a persistent cough, joint pain, tiredness and fatigue.
TB is a bacterial infection that mainly affects the lungs, as well as the abdomen, glands, bones and nervous system. Although potentially life-threatening, it can usually be cured if treated with the right antibiotics.
Unfortunately, after being referred to Royal Hallamshire Hospital from Lincoln County Hospital, Mrs Hill was wrongly diagnosed with Sarcoidosis, a rare condition that causes small patches of swollen tissue to develop in the organs of the body. Usually affecting the lungs and skin, it can also lead to a persistent cough.
While there is currently no cure for Sarcoidosis, chronic symptoms are managed with strong steroid tablets that suppress the immune system. Actually battling a serious bacterial infection, this treatment plan sadly led to Mrs Hill’s steady decline, with ultimately devastating consequences.
Having initially presented with fairly mild symptoms, her condition gradually worsened after beginning the course of steroids. Suspecting they were making her more ill, Mrs Hill was reluctant to keep taking the drugs, but continued to do so on medical advice.
Despite her own declining health, Mrs Hill continued to work in her physically and emotionally demanding role as a carer up until right before her death, having dedicated her whole life to looking after others.
Having been born in Zanzibar, and worked as a nurse in a number of countries badly affected by TB, doctors should have recognised that Mrs Hill was at significantly increased risk of the infection. However, they continually neglected to test for the bacteria, which can lie dormant in the body for many years before causing symptoms.
In December 2013, nearly two years after she first visited her GP, Mrs Hill became seriously unwell and was admitted to Lincoln County Hospital and was transferred to Northern General Hospital on December 23, 2013.
On January 8, 2014, Mrs Hill was advised that it was possible that she was suffering from TB. Treatment for this condition was not started until January 18, 2014, by which point it was too late to arrest her rapid deterioration and she passed away in ICU with her husband Victor at her bedside on January 29, 2014.
With the cause of her death not formally identified, a coroner undertook a post-mortem examination and established that Mrs Hill had in fact been suffering from TB.
Keen to find out why his wife’s illness had been misdiagnosed for so long, and to raise awareness of ‘forgotten killer’ TB, in July 2014, Mr Hill contacted the medical negligence team at Langleys Solicitors, a leading UK law firm with offices in Lincoln and York.
After initially being delayed three times, an inquest was finally held in 2015. However, despite the findings of the coroner, the Trust refused to admit fault, or apologise to Mr Hill for its role in his wife’s death.
Legal proceedings continued for a number of years, as a result of the defendants’ refusal to accept that failures in their care had resulted in Mrs Hill’s death.
A crucial point in the investigation was obtaining a tissue sample taken in March 2011, which had never been sent for culture by Lincoln County Hospital, which tested positive for TB.
If the Trust had sent this for culture when the biopsy had been taken, Mrs Hill would have been diagnosed with TB in 2011, she would have received appropriate treatment and would have survived.
It was only at this point that the Trusts accepted responsibility for Mrs Hill’s death. There were, however, further missed opportunities to save Mrs Hill’s life. According to expert evidence, if she had been given appropriate treatment for TB at any point up to and including January 8, 2014 (the date when TB was finally suspected) she would have survived.
Mr Hill was eventually compensated for his wife’s pain and suffering and his own losses with a six-figure monetary award.
Speaking of the experience, Mr Hill said: “There is no question that had my wife’s illness been correctly diagnosed and treated when she first started experiencing symptoms, she would still be here today.
“Even when it became clear she was becoming increasingly ill, her doctors continued to treat her for Sarcoidosis. She never complained but it was clear to see that she was going downhill, yet despite her clear risk factors for TB it was never even suggested as a possibility until it was too late.
“My wife worked as a nurse for most of her life, before becoming a carer when she felt that looking after the patients had become secondary to the job. I just wish that the healthcare professionals who treated her had shown her the same level of care and respect that she always showed to others.
“Although nothing will ease the pain of losing her, I’m determined to raise awareness of TB, in the hope that nobody else goes through this needless pain.”
“While I was hugely disappointed in the attitude of the Trust, the team at Langleys were fantastic throughout. They provided me with so much support at a very difficult time, and when the proceedings finally came to an end it almost felt like saying goodbye to friends.”
Andrew Cragg, head of the Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury teams at Langleys Solicitors, said: “This was a clear case of medical negligence: given Mrs Hill’s background, TB should have been ruled out as standard.
“Moza’s death was absolutely devastating for Victor and his children who were devoted to her and so we were very pleased to secure justice for Moza, Victor and their family in highlighting the shortcomings in her treatment. Importantly, this case has also highlighted the urgent need for more education around TB, both within the medical community and the general public.”
Both Trusts have issued apologies to Mr Hill.
Dr Jennifer Hill, Medical Director (Operations), Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Our teams work exceptionally hard to provide the best possible care to our patients and we are so very sorry that in respect of Mrs Hill’s care in 2013 some of our actions were not as expected.
"We have apologised to Mrs Hill’s family for the shortcomings in the care that we provided and whilst nothing that we can say will take away the pain of their loss, we can assure them that we have taken what happened very seriously in order to learn and make changes where we can, so that the chances of it happening again are minimised.”
And Medical Director, Dr Neill Hepburn, from United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We have offered our sincerest and deepest apologies to the family of Mrs Hill for the failings in her diagnosis and treatment.
"We have also put in place measures and training to ensure that we learn from the errors made in Mrs Hill’s care to prevent this from happening again.”