Man whose life was devastated by misdiagnosis of spinal condition awarded £1.5M compensation to rebuild life


A man whose life was devastated after a spinal condition was misdiagnosed is calling for greater awareness of the signs after he was awarded £1.5 million in compensation towards the cost of his care.

Matthew Smith, 53, from Cowes on the Isle of Wight is permanently disabled, no longer able to work and requires an adapted house and car to cope with daily living after emergency surgery was delayed by three days.

The former lecturer at a training company has a serious spinal injury called cauda equina syndrome (CES) and is now in constant pain, can only walk short distances with the help of crutches and has abnormal bladder function. Matthew requires assistance with many aspects of daily living and requires a specially adapted house to safely manage his condition.

Matthew, who is married, would have made a good recovery if he had been given an urgent MRI scan and surgery when his symptoms first appeared. However Matthew suffered appalling delays due to mistakes by doctors at St Mary’s Hospital, Isle of Wight and the University Hospital of Southampton and the window of opportunity to treat him successfully was missed.

After being helped to challenge the mistakes that were made with the help of specialist solicitors at law firm JMW Matthew was awarded £1.5 million in compensation to help him cope with the financial implications of his condition. Matthew is now campaigning for greater awareness of the CES ‘red flags’ so that doctors act more quickly and patients are more able to push for the treatment they urgently need.

Matthew, who before his injury was a keen sailor and very active, said: “Before this happened to me I had never even heard of cauda equina syndrome. Now I believe it is as important to warn all those with back problems of the red flag signs as it is to warn over 50s of the signs of stroke.

“Every part of my life has been affected and no amount of money can give me back what has been taken away, it can only help me cope with the many financial repercussions of my disabilities, which are severe.

“To know that I would have made a good recovery if it had been treated as the surgical emergency is extremely difficult to come to terms with. I believe mine and other recent cases brought against St Mary's has led to them making considerable investment and improvement to the A&E department.”

Angharad Hughes, a spinal injury specialist at JMW Solicitors, who handled Matthew’s case against the two hospitals, commented: “In Matthew’s case there was a clear lack of awareness of the signs of cauda equina syndrome by hospital doctors and the need to arrange an urgent MRI scan and surgery. This meant he waited three days before he had surgery and by the time it was done it was too late to prevent permanent damage.

“I am pleased to have secured this compensation that will enable Matthew to cope better with his disabilities and give him some financial security and access to the care and equipment he requires.

“However the message to get across is that permanent cauda equina syndrome is preventable in the majority of cases but proper recognition of the symptoms and rapid intervention is critical. Carrying out surgery many hours after the first onset will have a limited, if any, effect so improving diagnosis and treatment of cauda equina syndrome will save many people from having their lives ruined.”

CES is caused when the cauda equina nerves at the base of the spine become compressed, frequently due to a slipped disc. The red flags include back pain that is accompanied by bladder and bowel abnormalities, altered sensation or numbness in the lower half of the body and leg weakness and pain.

Matthew’s ordeal began in January 2013 when he slipped on ice and twisted his back, resulting in severe back pain. On 29th January Matthew was struggling to walk due to the severity of the pain and contacted his GP to request a home visit, which was arranged for the following day. However that afternoon Matthew’s condition deteriorated and he had a strange sensation in both legs, he could not feel or move his left foot and could not feel his left buttock so he attended A&E at St Mary’s Hospital.

At this point the doctors who assessed him should have suspected CES and arranged an urgent MRI scan. Instead Matthew was sent home with a muscle relaxant but was not warned to return to hospital urgently if he suffered any abnormality of bowel and bladder function or abnormal sensation in the buttocks or perineal area

Overnight Matthew struggled to pass urine and by morning felt numb from the waist down. The GP arrived that afternoon for the prearranged visit and found Matthew to be very unsteady and suspecting CES sent him back to St Mary’s Hospital. However it was not until the next day that Matthew underwent an MRI scan which revealed his cauda equina nerves were being severely compressed by a slipped disc. Matthew was not transferred to the spinal unit at Southampton General Hospital until 11pm that night and surgeons did not operate until the afternoon of 1 February. However by now it was too late to prevent permanent damage.


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Kelly Hindle or Samantha Meakin on the details below:

Kelly Hindle

D. 0161 828 1868


Samantha Meakin

Note to Editors

JMW Solicitors LLP is a leading Manchester law firm and offers a broad range of legal services to both commercial and private clients.

JMW’s Clinical Negligence team is headed up by leading clinical negligence lawyer, Eddie Jones.

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