NHS must take cauda equina syndrome failures seriously

30th June 2016 Clinical Negligence

Permanent spinal damage caused by failures in care is one of the most serious injuries we deal with in the medical negligence team at JMW. When medical conditions affecting the spine go undiagnosed or are not treated with enough urgency the after effects can be catastrophic and include lost mobility, incontinence and permanent pain.

I have worked on numerous different injuries that have been mistreated by NHS doctors but one that I continue to be contacted about again and again is cauda equina syndrome (CES). This week one of my cases featured in the national media after the hospital involved admitted failing to carry out the necessary checks and perform urgent surgery (Daily Mail, the Sun).

Michelle Turner is a 41-year-old mother of four who is devoted to her children and should be enjoying her time with them to the fullest. However now she has to rely on walking aids, has endured the breakdown of 12-year her relationship and suffers from bowel and bladder incontinence.

It's not the life she should be living and the tragedy is that it was all avoidable if a basic standard of care had been given to her. Tests and scans that would have confirmed a diagnosis of CES were not carried out by the hospital when Michelle first attended A&E and she was sent home.

After being sent back to hospital by her GP days later she eventually underwent the surgery she urgently needed but by this point it was too late to prevent permanent damage from being done to the nerves at the base of her spine. Michelle will have to live with the consequences of that delay for the rest of her life and the knowledge that with urgent surgery she would have made a complete recovery.

Cauda equina syndrome is a surgical emergency but too many NHS doctors are not aware of the red flag signs and do treat patients urgently. Campaigning by support groups such as the Cauda Equina Syndrome Association and individuals such as Michelle and I aims to change that but there is only so much we can do. The NHS must take the issue of CES care seriously so that more patients can recover from this debilitating condition,

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Eddie Jones is a Partner and Head of Department located in Manchesterin our Clinical Negligence department

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