Patricia Rose Diss was diagnosed with mesothelioma in September 2018 after being exposed to asbestos at her workplace, an office in Thames House, part of Barnet Hospital. Patricia successfully made a claim against the hospital for industrial injury and is currently two years into immunotherapy treatment and feeling well.
72-year-old Patricia Diss was a very healthy, active woman until July 2018 when she started to experience difficulty breathing and fatigue. Her daughter, a cardiac physiologist, thought it could be a heart problem and arranged for Patricia to have an echocardiogram. This revealed fluid on Patricia’s left lung and she was referred to St Thomas’ Hospital to have the fluid drained and for further investigations (biopsies, CT scan and blood tests).
During the investigations, Patricia was asked if she had ever been exposed to asbestos. Having worked for the NHS most of her life, Patricia assumed that she had not been exposed and answered no.
Following the investigations, Patricia and her family were told that she had mesothelioma. Patricia remembers that the consultant had to explain what the disease was as they had never heard of it. She recalls only hearing the words ‘incurable, inoperable cancer’ and feeling numbness, disbelief and fear.
Patricia was then referred to Guy’s cancer unit for palliative chemotherapy. She was put in touch with support group HASAG which helped Patricia with disability claim forms and gave her a list of solicitors in case there was a possibility of claiming for industrial injury.
The chemotherapy took its toll. Patricia felt very ill and overwhelmingly sad seeing her family devastated by her diagnosis. However, the palliative care team put Patricia in touch with her local hospice which provided a schedule of support and care which Patricia found enabled her to be positive, but realistic. She managed five out of six rounds of chemotherapy and in March 2019 was feeling better. Sadly, by July, the tumour had begun to grow again.
Patricia looked into the possibility of claiming for industrial injury and contacted FieldFisher solicitors which issued proceedings against Patricia’s former employer, the Barnet and Chase Farm Hospital Trust in the High Court.
In October 2019, Patricia was accepted onto a clinical trial at St Bartholomew’s hospital using immunotherapy drug, Nivolumab. This gave her and her family hope but by Christmas she had lost nearly two stone and was very weak. Patricia had been one of the one in three trial patients who receive the placebo, not the actual drug.
The immunotherapy drug was not available on the NHS so if Patricia wanted to have the treatment, she would have to self-fund it at a cost of around £8,000 per month. After much discussion with her family, Patricia decided to pay privately for nine months of the treatment, beginning in January 2020. Nivolumab was given every two weeks, Ipilimumab every six weeks, blood tests every two weeks and CT scans every three months.
Meanwhile the legal case was progressing, albeit often with one step forward and two back. However, the legal team were optimistic. Patricia is thankful for the team’s professionalism, tenacity and support.
In June 2020, six months after commencing immunotherapy treatment, a scan revealed that Patricia’s tumour had shrunk by 50%. She felt well and her quality of life had improved immensely. The only side effect from the immunotherapy drugs was a lowered thyroid function which was easily controlled. However, Patricia was not willing to continue to use £8,000 of her families’ funds every month for much longer and was desperately hoping for a positive outcome from the legal case.
Patricia’s solicitor, Shaheen Mosquera, had been gathering evidence and statements about the conditions of the offices where Patricia worked as a complaints manager between 2003/4 and 2013. The offices were dilapidated and not cleaned due to it being overcrowded with files. Patricia would often dust the area herself and recalled frequently being covered in dust when touching files which were stored in a fireplace recess.
Various areas of the building, including areas where Patricia had spent time, had been shown in the hospital’s asbestos survey to have contained asbestos dust. Shaheen was able to produce witnesses who confirmed that Patricia had worked in those areas and had never been warned about asbestos or told to take any precautions.
A settlement meeting was arranged in September 2020 in which the Barnet and Chase Farm Hospital Trust agreed to pay Patricia a six-figure sum and an agreement was put in place for payment of her future immunotherapy.
In November 2021, Patricia commented: “It’s now two years into my immunotherapy treatment. I do get breathless; I do get very tired at the end of the day. But the tumour has now shrunk by 80%. I am able to enjoy a normal, happy lifestyle, including cooking and housework, and most of all I am so happy that I can play with my grandchildren.
“Please can I take this opportunity to thank Professor Szlosarek and his team and the lawyers who have seen me through to this point. Thanks, and love to my family and friends.”