Southern DHB under fire for delays, missteps after woman comes forward with story of undiagnosed brain tumour

Seeing the story of Winton man Jason Mitchell on Newshub Live at 6 was all too familiar to Christine Cahill, who lost her hearing due to missteps by the Southern District Health Board.

Mitchell, 39, waited three months to receive confirmation he was on a waiting list at the Southern DHB.

That confirmation letter told him he would have to wait another seven months just to get an appointment.

"I was so angry. Seven months to get an appointment," Cahill told Newshub. "So much can happen to a person in that time. Those seven months [he] won't ever be able to reclaim. Nor will his family."

In May 2015, Cahill saw an ear, nose and throat specialist for an MRI after having trouble with her hearing.

"I was told the results would be ready in seven to 10 days," she said.

But Cahill did not receive the results that quickly.

"I rang the hospital and was told that there were no results at this time. I rang my GP, who gave me the same answer. I waited another couple of weeks and rang the Southern DHB again. Again, I was told no results.

"Shouldn't someone have been able to follow up as to why there was no result from my MRI? It's not rocket science."

Twelve months later, Cahill finally received a letter from Southern DHB for a 'review appointment'.

"I thought it was to check that my hearing hadn't deteriorated.

"I went to the appointment alone only to be told, 'I'm sorry, but you have an undiagnosed brain tumour'.

"I honestly didn't know what to say. I left and sat in my car in my tears... I went in thinking it was just my hearing and left with it being a brain tumour."

If Cahill had been given the results on time, she could have been treated with radiation.

"Had I had radiation, I could have kept what hearing I did have at that time. It wasn't great, but I had hearing and that was taken away from me."

The tumour had doubled in size after going undiagnosed, so the only option for Cahill was surgery.

"It was benign but it was pressing on my brain stem. Had it been any longer, I possibly wouldn't be here now."

Cahill is now permanently deaf in her right ear. 

"It has impacted my life immensely. I have trouble with my balance. I can't do things that I used to do, like climb a ladder or climb over a gate," she said.

"Even riding my horse, I have to have someone in the paddock because I can't ride unaided."

Cahill lodged a complaint with the Health and Disability Commissioner, who found the Southern DHB and the doctor who carried out the MRI to be in breach of the Code of Rights.

The Commissioner found both a paper and digital system was used by the Southern DHB in 2015 and a fully electronic system was being introduced.

"My MRI was found by accident, by someone cleaning up unopened files," Cahill said.

The DHB and the doctor were told to write an apology to Cahill - but she says an apology letter isn't enough.

"Anyone can say sorry. Sorry, to me, is not going to change what has happened to me. It's not going to bring my hearing back. It's not going to give me the life that I had before.

"I would have liked to have had a meeting face to face to say my part, and say what their errors have done."

Cahill was told the Southern DHB had changed their systems and had a follow-up MRI last year - but has still not had the results back.

"I don't want anyone to have to go through this. It's horrible. It's like hell, to be perfectly honest."

The Southern DHB says radiology results are available electronically to general practitioners and specialists within a week of the MRI being conducted.

"General Practitioners are able to see the results as they become available. 

"Some results are provided to patients at clinics, but the results are available in the electronic record and do not take months."