"It was a long time before my symptoms were taken seriously"

About: Churchill Hospital / Dermatology John Radcliffe Hospital / General surgery

(as the patient),

I'm sharing my story because I believe I have been failed by the NHS. In Feb 2008, I went to my GP because I had developed a painful boil under my arm. I was told it was an insect bite and given antiseptic cream. Within a few days it had got much bigger and I was feeling faint, dizzy and having palpitations. I went to another GP who gave me antibiotics. So far, so good. I returned to him a week later, by which time it was about the size of a dinner plate and I was having trouble standing, moving my arm or eating- he sent me to hospital.

The treatment I received was, frankly, shocking. I came in looking understandably worse for wear and was sent to the surgery ward. The two nurses who did my examination asked how often I showered and washed my clothes and how many sexual partners I had had ( I was at the time an 18 year old girl) I hadn't showered that day as I was so ill but assured them I was otherwise hygienic. They sent me in to have the abscess drained, and sent swabs for tests. I asked for a diagnosis or treatment options and they told me to moisturise my skin, and stop shaving my armpits.

The boils, however, kept recurring and I called up a month later with four more to see the results of the tests. They said I needed a GP to call,so I got my GP to call, and they said they had no record of me or any tests. I sent them a copy of my surgical wristband and they acknowledged I had been admitted but they had lost the swabs.

I demanded to see a dermatologist, but this was declined. Saddened, I began to cry in the GP's office, asking for some different antibiotics or a referral. She told me to stop shaving my armpits, moisturise and gave me antidepressants. Which I did not take. She then asked me whether I missed my absent father and whether I worried about cancer, at which point I left.

Cut to 18 months, a year of 7 different antibiotics, two sets of lost tests and a lot of judgemental NHS doctors faced with a "silly young girl who can't wash properly" later, and I finally got a referral to a dermatologist, who looked at my over 20 boils and scars, and me shivering and vomiting, and took a set of swabs that were not lost. I was finally diagnosed with Panton-Valentine MRSA, a rare and dangerous form of MRSA. She assured me I could carry on shaving, and now I am cured.

The whole experience made me feel silly, and a little mad - who wouldn't, after being told by doctor after doctor that all you needed was a dash of moisturiser, all the while being debilitated by fever and boils. Whether they were trying to keep MRSA off their hospital records, or simply dismissing an 18 year old student as a filthy boil-ridden fresher, I do not know but I feel I was judged for my gender, age and appearance before anyone took notice of my medical problem. It still causes me to doubt doctors today.

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Response from Churchill Hospital

The Oxford University Hospital NHS Trust is currently reviewing historic comments placed on NHS Choices and we note you made a comment in 2010 which was not responded to. The Trust takes both positive and negative feedback recieved from patients, or their families, seriously and, whenever possible, we use any learning gained to improve the service we provide. Should you wish to contact the Trust regarding this comment or any other service your have received since, please do not hesitate to contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service on palsjr@ouh.nhs.uk or telephone 01865 221473.

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