Six-Figure Settlement Secured For Patient Suffering From Cauda Equina Syndrome Following Surgery

4th December 2018 by

RH v Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust

RH sought help and advice from Jonathan Austen-Jones to investigate a potential claim for clinical negligence against the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust following back surgery carried out by one of its orthopaedic and spinal specialists.

Having been referred by his GP for investigation and treatment of sciatica, RH attended the Royal Sussex County Hospital in November 2012.  Following consultation and recommendation by one of the Trust’s treating consultants, RH underwent a decompression spinal operation and interbody fusion surgery in May 2013.  RH felt rushed by the treating surgeon to sign the form consenting to the operation, despite not having his reading glasses to hand.

RH experienced severe post-operative problems, was in significant pain and initially had no feeling in either leg, which was originally explained to him as being caused by bruising to the nerves sustained during the operation.  His symptoms did not improve and so three days after the surgery RH eventually underwent an MRI scan which revealed, amongst other things, likely compression of the cauda equina (a bundle of nerves at the base of the spine).   Cauda Equina Syndrome is considered a surgical emergency because, if left untreated, it can lead to permanent loss of bowel and bladder control and paralysis of the legs.

The realisation that there was ongoing and unaddressed compression of the cauda equina led to RH’s urgent transfer to the neurosurgery unit where an emergency operation for exploration of the lumbar spine wound and excavation of haematoma was performed on 5 May by a different surgeon.

Although the second surgery prevented further deterioration of RH’s condition, as a consequence of the substandard first surgery he was left with a range of permanent nerve damage to his legs with symptoms.  These range from a drop foot, pins and needles in his legs and debilitating sensitivity in his feet to intermittent bladder/bowel incontinence and impotence.  He continues to suffer some back pain that worsens after standing or walking for any length of time or distance.

Jonathan obtained and reviewed RH’s GP and hospital records and consulted with independent specialist medical experts on the events surrounding his hospitalisation, seeking their opinions on whether the first surgery had in fact been below an acceptable standard and caused RH’s permanent injuries.  Having obtained supportive expert medical reports, Court proceedings were issued and served on the Defendant in February 2017, when the Court timetable was set in motion.  Although the allegations of negligence were denied by the Hospital Trust, Jonathan continued to gather supporting expert evidence on RH’s condition and prognosis which was served on the Defendant in April 2018.  Settlement negotiations then took place over the course of three months, resulting in Jonathan successfully securing a significant six figure sum for RH in July 2018.

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