Case Study: Steroid Error Following GP Negligence Leads to Cushing's Syndrome

Compensation: £100,000

Belinda, 37 years old, Oldham

A woman has received £100,000 compensation after negligent drug treatment led to an overdose, which caused her to develop Cushing's Syndrome.

Named Belinda, the woman was referred by her GP to a neurologist at her local hospital because of a six-month history of weakness in the legs, disturbance of balance and nystagmus.

The neurologist wrote to the GP to advise that he feared Belinda was suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS) and that he would admit her for further investigations, including an MRI scan, which was planned but never took place. The diagnosis of MS was not confirmed and she was discharged with arrangements for follow up in five months.

Steroid ACTH prescription

Shortly after discharge, another GP at the practice visited Belinda at home and told her she had MS. He prescribed the steroid ACTH to be given by intramuscular (IM) injection, and Belinda continued to receive this for thirteen years.

Two years after her first referral to the neurologists, Belinda was referred to neurologists at a larger regional hospital. Belinda claims she was not informed of this referral and did not receive any appointment letters from the hospital.

Consequently, she missed two appointments at the neurology clinic and therefore no further appointments were arranged. Her GP was informed of this, but took no action until three years later, when he referred her again.

Side effects of ACTH

By this stage, Belinda had put on six stone in weight, was hypertensive and suffered from general fatigue, unsteadiness and immobility - all side effects of ACTH.

At the neurology clinic she was seen by the registrar, who could find no signs of multiple sclerosis. He did not inform Belinda of this, nor explain to her that most of her symptoms were due to the steroids she had been taking for the past five years.

He wrote to the GP advising him of his findings, and suggested that the ACTH should be gradually reduced. However, he made no arrangements to supervise the reduction. Despite the advice from the neurologist, the GP continued to prescribe ACTH and it was not until his practice was taken over by another doctor that any effective steps were taken to wean Belinda off the ACTH. 

Belinda never had MS and was probably suffering from a self-limiting episode of demyelination. It is likely that she would have spontaneously fully recovered after a number of months had it not been for the prescribing of ACTH.

Consequences of poor standard of care

The ACTH caused Belinda to develop Cushing's syndrome. She became wheelchair-bound because of excessive weight gain and was unable to work or to care for her family. She developed rheumatoid complaints and hypertension and became very irritable.

Despite stopping the ACTH, Belinda has remained overweight and hypertensive. She has become angry and depressed since realising that her years of illness and poor quality of life could have been avoided had she not received such a poor standard of care.

Belinda is unlikely to ever fully recover from the effects of chronic over-administration of ACTH. She is at an increased risk of stroke and heart attack and her life expectancy is reduced.

Have you also suffered after negligent drug treatment?

If you, or someone you know, have suffered as a consequence of clinical negligence, you can discuss the potential for making a claim by speaking to our specialist solicitors today. Call us for free on 0800 054 6512 or fill in the enquiry form.

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