Mother whose life was devastated by NHS errors awarded seven-figure compensation settlement

16/05/2018

A mother whose life was devastated by a serious spinal condition that is frequently misdiagnosed by the NHS has been awarded a seven figure compensation settlement.

Virginia (Ginny) Atchison, who lives in Norwich and has a 20-year-old son called Leo, suffered a permanent spinal injury called cauda equina syndrome (CES) after blunders by NHS staff meant she was denied urgent surgery that would have allowed her to make a complete recovery.

She has now been awarded a seven figure compensation package from Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Norfolk Community Health and Care Trust to enable her to pick up the pieces of her life after her case was taken on by law firm JMW, which has dealt with many similar cases.

Ginny, 45, was left with permanent nerve damage causing significant neuropathic pain in both legs and poor bowel and bladder control, frequently leading to incontinence. Ginny has to self-catheterise every day to manage her bladder problems. She has also lost feeling in parts of her saddle area and all sexual function. Ginny can only walk short distances due to leg weakness. She was previously employed as an assistant shop manager but is no longer able to work. Her condition has had a psychological impact on her and she is now dedicating her life to raising awareness of cauda equina syndrome and supporting other sufferers.

Ginny said: “My injury has robbed me of so many things and I don’t want that to keep happening to other people. I’m relieved that I will now have financial security to cope with my disabilities but the clock can never be turned back and that’s something I have to live with. I’ve lost a lot independence and dignity due to my misdiagnosis but if I can get the message out about cauda equina syndrome and save one other person from having their life ruined by it then at least something worthwhile has been achieved."

Eddie Jones, Ginny’s solicitor at JMW, said symptoms of cauda equina syndrome are a surgical emergency however appalling errors were made in Ginny’s care and lessons have to be learned. He said: “There were missed opportunities to diagnose cauda equina syndrome and refer Ginny for treatment. The errors in Ginny’s case date back to 2010 but JMW continues to be contacted by patients on a weekly basis who say their cauda equina syndrome has gone undiagnosed and treated.

“Medical professionals firstly need to recognise the signs and secondly understand that they represent an emergency and take swift action. Cauda equina syndrome is treatable but the window of opportunity is small and if missed the patient’s life can be completely devastated.

“I am pleased to have secured such a significant compensation settlement for Ginny because as well as not being able to hold down a job she also now requires a specially adapted house to enable her to safely manage her condition due to her living in a completely unsuitable first floor flat. However the tragedy is that her disabilities would have been avoided if she had received an appropriate level of care.”

Cauda equina syndrome 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 / sciatica that is accompanied by bowel and bladder problems, such as not being able to go or being incontinent, numbness or altered sensation around the saddle area or legs, or leg pain, weakness or altered sensation.

Ginny’s ordeal began in in July 2010 when she went to A&E at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital with severe back pain and an electric shock sensation in her legs. She was referred to an orthopaedic doctor, as it was suspected she has suffered a slipped disc, and Ginny was referred for pain management.

By December Ginny was still in significant pain in her back and both legs and was referred for physiotherapy by her GP. Ginny told the physiotherapist that she was also struggling to pass urine normally and had numbness in her thighs. The physiotherapist wrongly referred her back to orthopaedic triage at hospital when cauda equina syndrome should have been suspected and Ginny should have been referred to A&E for an urgent MRI scan. Ginny finally underwent an MRI scan in February 2011 which revealed a large disc was putting severe pressure on her nerves but this was misreported by a doctor and Ginny was still not sent for the urgent surgery she required.

By August 2011 both Ginny’s legs were numb, she was in excruciating pain which had spread to her feet and she was finding it more and more difficult to pass urine. Ginny went to see her GP but because the hospital had not suspected anything serious the GP was not concerned.

However when Ginny returned to the GP on 12 August 2011, after she had been unable to pass urine for 24 hours, she was sent back to hospital. While waiting to be seen in the orthopaedic outpatients department she completely lost control of her bladder and bowel. Ginny was taken for a further MRI scan and told that she needed surgery that evening. However by this point it was too late to prevent permanent nerve damage due to the failure of the physiotherapist who Ginny saw in December 2010 and the doctor who misinterpreted the scan in February 2011.

Ends

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

E. Kelly.hindle@jmw.co.uk

Samantha Meakin

Samantha.meakin@jmw.co.uk

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.

https://www.jmw.co.uk/services-for-you/clinical-negligence/

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