A woman who suffered catastrophic injuries as the result of the negligent management and treatment of an infection in her spine has recovered £900,000 in compensation with the help of Thompsons Solicitors.

The woman, who is now paraplegic, is confined to a wheelchair and is wholly dependant upon her family and carers for all of her daily activities.

In October 2002 she developed sudden and excruciating pain in her back. The pain became so severe that on 15th October 2002 an ambulance was called and she was taken to her local hospital for an emergency examination.

She was seen by a doctor who examined her and took blood for testing. The blood test showed signs of infection. Following an x-ray of her spine she was diagnosed with musculo-skeletal pain and discharged.

However, the back pain continued and became progressively worse. She was unable to lie down flat and had to sleep in a chair.

Her GP arranged for further blood tests and on 15th November 2002 referred her back to the hospital. She was again admitted and arrangements were made for her to sleep in a Parker Knowle chair because she was still unable to lie flat.

Blood tests again showed a high white cell count indicating an infection. Despite this test result, the doctor made a diagnosis of polymyalgia rheumatica (a condition which causes inflammation and pain in the large muscles) and she was discharged home on 18th November 2002.

Irriversible damage to spine paralysed woman

The severe pain continued and in the early hours of 2nd December 2002 the woman had a sudden spasm in her legs and by 5.30am she had become paralysed. An ambulance was again called and she was admitted to the hospital. This time, spinal cord compression was diagnosed.

Following an MRI scan she was told there was irreversible damage to her spine with compression of the spinal cord.

Commenting, the claimant’s representative at Thompsons Solicitors, Gillian Muir, said: “It’s likely that if she had simply been prescribed the correct course of antibiotics she would hopefully have made a full recovery. The treatment she needed really was as basic as that.

“Instead, she then had to be transferred to another hospital where she underwent a fusion operation on her spine. The surgeon found pus and extensive infection in the spine.

On 20th December 2002 she was transferred to the spinal unit of another hospital and had further surgery in January 2003. She was finally discharged home on 2nd May 2003 but extensive alterations had to be done to the family home.”

Complaint made to Hospital Trust

The woman and her family made a formal complaint to the Hospital Trust.

The Trust responded by saying they had reviewed the circumstances that had caused the diagnosis not to be made earlier. They advised that the previous x-rays did not give any clinical indication as to the serious and developing nature of the woman’s condition. They agreed that with hindsight it would have been appropriate for the patient to have an earlier MRI scan and this would have resulted in the correct diagnosis.

However, they advised that even in retrospect the clinical evidence that this was urgently needed before 25th November 2002 was not strong.

The woman had been hoping for a full admission and apology from the Hospital Trust but this was not forthcoming. She therefore decided to pursue a claim for compensation and instructed Gillian Muir as a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence. She is also a member of the Law Society Clinical Negligence Panel Member. Gillian obtained reports from experts confirming that if the diagnosis had been made in October or November 2002, the woman could have been treated with antibiotics which would have prevented her injuries.

Hospital gave substandard care

The Hospital Trust's solicitors accepted that there had been substandard care at the time of the second admission, but initially they did not agree that this would have avoided all of the woman’s injuries. This was later conceded, and reports were obtained on the woman’s housing needs, care needs, physiotherapy needs and her needs for aids and equipment.

The case finally settled for the sum of £900,000.00. The woman’s husband said that they would be happy to give every penny back if they could reverse what had happened.

Despite the tragic circumstances surrounding the case, the woman and her family were happy with the outcome of the settlement, describing it as “more than excellent”, calling Gillian Muir “absolutely top class” and saying that “she had real empathy with us.”

Gillian Muir said: “This is a case where it was very disappointing that the Hospital Trust did not immediately admit to causing my client’s injuries when she made the formal complaint. This caused additional and unnecessary anxiety for her and her family. However, the compensation payment will now allow my client to move into a specially adapted bungalow and will provide care for her for the rest of her life.”