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22 October 2022 | Case Study | Article by Lesley Herbertson

Hospital failed to diagnose spinal fracture leaves man tetraplegic

Man dies after being left bedridden due to multiple failures at hospital to diagnose fracture in his neck. Henry, aged 84, regularly visited the gym and spa and was relatively active for his age. He was involved in a fall whilst exiting the Jacuzzi at his health club and was taken to hospital by ambulance where he underwent an x-ray and CT scan of the spine.

Henry was experiencing some neck stiffness and other symptoms and so was kept in hospital under observation. There was also some delay whilst a care package at home was arranged.

Four days after the accident, and just before he was due for discharge, Henry’s blood pressure fell and he was described as confused with right-sided weakness.

Further scans were taken, including an MRI scan. Meanwhile, Henry was fitted with a neck collar, as per the recommendation of another local hospital which has a specialist spinal unit.

The MRI scan was reviewed by doctors at both the original and the specialist hospital and both failed to note signs of an unstable spine. Therefore, there was a delay in Henry being transferred to the latter for review and treatment as appropriate.

By the time Henry was transferred to the specialist unit and listed for surgery, three weeks later, he had already started to suffer with numbness and weakness in all four limbs.

An unstable neck fracture was detected and this led to surgery which involved cervical pedicle screw fixation at the level of the spinal fracture and steps to reduce pressure on the spinal cord generally.

Although Henry recovered well post-operatively, the surgery had been carried out too late as he had already sustained permanent damage to his spinal cord.

Henry was transferred to another hospital for rehabilitation and was discharged home three months later. However, Henry remained tetraplegic and, due to lack of appropriate care on the ground, was rarely mobilised out of bed. He relied heavily upon his 82 year old wife for care and support at their family home.

We argued that the MR scan Henry underwent at the original hospital, but which was also reviewed by the specialist spinal hospital remotely, was under-reported and further imaging should have been recommended which would have led to a more prompt and firm diagnosis of Henry’s spinal injury, leading to surgery before he suffered the severe neurological deterioration that he did.

Sadly, Henry passed away before his case went to trial and so the value of the claim was reduced significantly.

We were successful in reaching a compensation award of £50,000 for Henry’s estate and his dependent wife.

Lesley Herbertson, Partner at Hugh James, acted for Henry and said:

This case was extremely sad. Henry was a lovely gent whose last years of life were horribly affected by the poor standard of care that he received from two hospitals. We did what we could to expedite a trial date, given Henry’s age, and the NHS’ solicitors were sympathetic and co-operative in that regard.

However, Henry was so poorly following what had happened to him and, given his age, he passed away before even settlement discussions could begin. We had to reach a compromise agreement on behalf of his estate and wife bearing in mind the tricky legal issues involved in the case as well as the reduced value of the claim after Henry’s death.

The names and identifying details of the client have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals involved.

Author bio

Lesley Herbertson is a Partner at Hugh James and a leading medical negligence solicitor with over 30 years’ experience in dealing with catastrophic and serious injury medical negligence cases.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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