A Christchurch woman says she had begun planning her own funeral after being incorrectly diagnosed with cancer in a file mix-up.

Health New Zealand said the error occurred when incorrect images were loaded on Toni Shields’ file on May 22, 2024. Shields’ GP was notified of the mistake seven days later on May 29, 2024.

Shields described being told she had cancer as a “day I’ll never forget”.

“I instantly was thinking of my children and my grandchildren. Especially the state of my oldest son Jamie, he was completely broken.

“It was devastating. More so to see my sons go through complete hurt,” she told Breakfast.

Shields said she first went to the doctor after experiencing stomach pain and had lost a lot of weight “rather quickly”, which led her to having an ultrasound, and then a CT scan.

“The following day I got the call from my nurse saying she had made an appointment with my doctor for me because the results had come back in.

“She said there had been some changes, and I needed to come back in, so that terrified me.

“What it said was that I had multiple masses on my liver, with the pancreas being the primary cause and also something about my bowel, but that still had to be looked at,” she said.

Shields said six days went by before she was contacted about the mistake.

“I was planning my funeral; I was looking at assisted dying. I’d rung my landlord to try and get my youngest onto my lease. I’d thrown away a lot of stuff. I’d looked into aged progression acts and thank goodness we did not tell my grandchildren.”

She said she was “very lucky not to be opened up” and said she was frustrated by how this incident happened.

“I’m just very angry right now. It was a week of up-and-down emotion, very surreal. I’m still very … speechless about the whole thing.”

Shields said she is now waiting to find out more about how the mix-up happened, as a full review at Christchurch Radiology is underway.

‘Sincerely sorry’ – Health NZ responds

In a statement, Health New Zealand’s interim Canterbury group director of operations Joanne Gibbs said it is “extremely unusual for an error like this to be made”.

“We are sincerely sorry that Toni was given an incorrect diagnosis and we have apologised for the significant stress that we have caused both Toni and her family,” she said.

“We are undertaking a full review of how this occurred to identify where improvements can be made and ensure this does not happen again in the future.

“We will continue to be in contact with Toni as the investigation into this incident continues, and she is welcome to contact our Radiology team with any other questions and comments she may have.”