Judge rules mentally ill woman in cancer scare should have surgery against will

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A mentally ill woman who doctors fear has a gynaecological cancer should undergo exploratory surgery against her will, a judge has ruled after a hearing in a specialist court.

Doctors said the woman, who is in her 60s, had experienced post-menopausal bleeding and symptoms which suggested cancer.

Bosses at the NHS hospitals trust with responsibility for her care asked Mr Justice Hayden to approve exploratory surgery and - if cancer was confirmed - a hysterectomy.

The judge has given the go-ahead after analysing the case at a hearing in the Court of Protection - where issues relating to people who lack the mental capacity to take decisions are considered - in London.

He has ruled that neither the woman nor the trust which made the application can be identified.

Mr Justice Hayden said he had to balance the health benefits if any cancer was treated against a likely decline in her mental health if she was forced to undergo surgery.

The judge accepted that medics would need to use a degree of coercion and a proportionate degree of force when moving the woman from the specialist unit she lived in to a hospital.

But he said she could live for many more years with treatment and concluded that her right to life was the decisive factor.

He said the case was difficult.

Mr Justice Hayden has announced his decision in a ruling.

He had heard competing arguments from lawyers representing the hospitals trust and the woman.

Barrister Sophia Roper, who led the trust's legal team, said the proposed surgery was in the woman's best interests.

Barrister Claire Watson, who represented the woman and received instructions from staff at the Official Solicitor's office - who offer help to vulnerable people embroiled in litigation, disagreed.

She said doctors may not find cancer and argued that the risk to the woman's mental health was too great.

Mr Justice Hayden heard that the woman was a paranoid schizophrenic who had suffered mental health problems since she was a teenager.

He said he was barring journalists from naming the trust to protect the woman.

The judge said there was a risk that publication of the trust's name would create an information jigsaw which could lead to other residents at the unit where the woman lived identifying her.

Mr Justice Hayden heard that the woman's illness caused her to have delusions.

He was told she had a delusion of being a young Catholic virgin and a delusion that medical staff would poison and rape her.