Failure to diagnose and treat discitis leaves 76 year old man paralysed
Bolt Burdon Kemp’s spinal injury team were instructed to pursue a claim for a client who sustained a complete spinal cord injury at T5 when he was 76 years old. Our client had been unwell for a few weeks and his GP strongly suspected he may have discitis, a spinal infection. Our client’s GP wrote a letter to his local hospital (which operates under the East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust) explaining his suspicions and suggested that an MRI was urgently performed. The hospital did carry out the MRI, which confirmed the presence of a spinal infection, but no reasonable action was taken to treat the infection.
The spinal infection became worse and our client slowly became paralysed over the next five days. The hospital failed to appreciate this new development, which should have been flagged as a medical emergency. By the time the hospital realised the severity of our client’s symptoms, it was too late – by then his paralysis had become permanent and irreversible.
Our client was then transferred to a neurosurgical unit at King’s College Hospital, London, where surgery was performed, but nothing could be done to salvage his sensation and movement. King’s College Hospital were concerned by the course of events which had led to our client’s paralysis and raised a red flag with the local hospital suggesting the treatment our client received fell below the acceptable standard of care in these circumstances. As a consequence of this, the local hospital conducted an internal investigation which found several failings and made various recommendations to ensure this would not happen again.
The Trust refused to accept responsibility
We were instructed to act in this case two years after our client became paralysed, following finalisation of the internal serious investigation report. Despite the numerous failings identified within their internal report, the Trust refused to admit full responsibility for our client’s injuries until nearly a year after they had been notified of the legal claim. During this time, the Trust refused to pay an interim payment to help meet our client’s immediate needs such as the care he required during the day and night, the adaptations required to make his home wheelchair accessible and the therapy he required to ensure he maintained the rehabilitation he had undergone to maintain his adjusted quality of life, following his catastrophic injury.
As the Trust refused to accept responsibility for our client’s injury, we had to instruct a variety of experts to prove negligence on the part of the local hospital over the five day period during which our client became paralysed. We secured evidence which stated that had our client’s MRI been interpreted correctly, he would have received prompt treatment for his spinal infection, which would have stemmed the infection and completely avoided his permanent paralysis.
Spinal cord injuries and secondary complications
Nowadays, it is very rare for someone to die from sustaining a spinal cord injury itself. However, someone with a spinal cord injury is more likely to sustain secondary complications which can reduce their life expectancy. Our client subsequently contracted pneumonia which is, shockingly, 19 times more likely if you have a spinal cord injury, due to compromised respiratory function. Sadly, our client was not able to fight off the pneumonia and he passed away, three years after becoming paralysed.
Two weeks after his death, the Trust accepted full responsibility for our client’s spinal cord injury, provided a Letter of Apology to the family and later agreed to pay a six-figure sum in damages. The damages reflected the injuries sustained by our client, the limited care which he’d had to pay for himself for 18 months when he returned home and the cost of the adaptations to his home which he had to self fund. Not everyone finds themselves in a position where they can feasibly fund such works and care themselves and others may suffer and struggle until such time as negligent healthcare providers admit liability for their mistakes.