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A mother and business owner says her life has been ruined by chronic severe pain caused by a spinal operation that she should never have had and didn’t even need.
Donna Johnstone, 48, of Ashton-in-Makerfield, has at times felt like driving her car off a cliff when she has been struggling to cope with the severity of the pain. She is no longer able to work, rarely leaves the house and even missed her eldest daughter’s university graduation.
And she is far from alone; a freedom of information request made by JMW Solicitors has revealed that between the financial years 2015/16 and 2020/21, 236 NHS patients received a total of almost £42 million in compensation after suffering damage due to undergoing an unnecessary operation.
Although the compensation awarded to Donna will help her and her family to cope with some of the financial consequences, it is a small consolation for a woman who used to take pride in running a busy home and business and is now unable to even look after herself.
Donna said: “You put your health in these specialists’ hands and you have to trust that they know what they are doing. I’m paying the price for giving that doctor my trust but I don’t want anyone else to go through it as it was completely avoidable. I’ve not been able to go to work for eight years and have to claim benefits. How can it be right that this doctor is allowed to carry on working like nothing has happened?
“I have lost my whole identity as a busy working mum. My family have also lost the wife and mother I used to be and now it is they who have to care for me. I can’t go on holiday as it makes it even harder to manage the pain in different accommodation. It’s like being trapped in a prison with no prospect of ever being released. I know there are people worse off than me and I try my best to make the best of things but I’m angry that such a life-changing mistake can be made and it can be brushed off without even so much as an apology.”
Jodie Miller is a specialist medical negligence solicitor at law firm JMW who represented Donna in her fight for justice against the Walton Centre, including throughout the trial. She said: “Donna’s a very strong lady but her strength has been tested to its limits by this case. Despite her poor physical health dedicated her fighting the Walton Centre not for herself, but for the other patients she is seeking to protect.
“This mistake wasn’t just ‘one of those things’, it wasn’t a careless error. It was a decision made by the doctor that showed he was out of touch with what was best for the patient and that’s very frightening.”
Donna, who lives with her husband Neil and daughters Robyn and Georgia, was referred to the Walton Centre in Liverpool, an NHS hospital that specialises in the management of neurological conditions, after developing pain in her left arm and mild pain in her neck. An MRI scan ordered by her GP had revealed a problem with a spinal cord disc in her neck, most likely caused by years of manufacturing electrical cables in the family business Roga Cables.
Donna was placed under the care of a surgeon, who said he could remove the disc, fit a metal work cage to support her neck and that this would leave her pain free and able to return work six weeks later. Although Donna was reluctant to have surgery, the surgeon made it seem as if the procedure was her only option. However, this was to be the start of a nightmare that has left Donna a shadow of her former self.
It was three weeks after the operation that Donna started to realise something was wrong. She started to suffer with severe pain in her neck and head which meant all she could do was lie down. However after x-rays and an MRI scan Donna was told that everything looked as it should. Over the coming months Donna’s pain worsened, requiring treatment with morphine. She was given a scan to check for infection and in May 2014 she saw the surgeon and was told that the scans showed the bones had fused and there was nothing else for him to do. He referred her to a pain clinic and discharged her from his care.
Donna has since seen other neurosurgeons, appointments that she pushed for herself, and has undergone revision surgery but nothing has been able to resolve her pain. She relies on a cocktail of medication including morphine to get through each day.
Jodie added: “Donna’s surgery was complicated and invasive and she would never have chosen to have it if she had known there was an alternative. It’s shocking that the surgeon was happy to put her through that when there was no hope of a positive result.”
The Walton Centre was ordered to pay Donna a six-figure compensation settlement last year, after a high court judge ruled that the operation, carried out back in August 2013, should never have happened,
Despite the court’s ruling, the Walton Centre still offered no acknowledgement of the mistake or apology to Donna leaving her fearing that lessons had not been learned. Unable to rest, Donna spoke to the trust personally following the trial and requested assurances that things had changed. She was sent an apology of sorts from the chief executive of the Walton Centre but this still did not address what had been done to stop the same thing from happening again.
Notes to editors:
County court judgement available on request.
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Kelly Hindle or Samantha Meakin on the details below:
D. 0161 828 1868
D: 0161 828 1981
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.