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Serious incidents at Warrington and Halton Hospitals cause spinal surgeries to be suspended

It seems incomprehensible that there have been four serious incidents occurring from spinal surgery at Warrington and Halton hospitals in the last six months.  Whilst two cases have been reported as being post-operative nerve damage, sadly two involved the deaths of patients.  It will be a devastating and daunting time for the patients and their families as they now grieve for those they have lost or start the journey through the rehabilitation process.

Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has cancelled all spinal procedures going forward until an external investigation by The Royal College of Surgeons into their surgical practice has concluded.

Although it must be incredibly disappointing for those currently waiting for spinal surgery, the Warrington and Halton hospitals have, as a precautionary measure, decided that the risks of continuing to perform spinal surgery are just too high at this moment in time.

Professor Simon Constable, the trust’s medical director and deputy chief executive, said:

“Patient safety and welfare is our priority and we are in the process of contacting all patients awaiting spinal surgery at Warrington and Halton hospitals to advise them of the options available to them – we will do our best to support patients at this time…. We see thousands of patients every year – with more than 5,500 outpatient appointments in spinal surgery last year and 1,600 procedures – but when there is any suggestion that we might have done something wrong we will take it very seriously.”

Unfortunately, as a team of solicitors working with people who have sustained a spinal cord injury through both personal injury and medical negligence, we frequently see the adverse events which can occur with spinal surgery.  Some of the errors or mistakes we have encountered are:

  • Failure to appropriately consent patients for spinal surgery including correct information about the risks of surgery
  • Using the wrong surgical technique which can lead to damage of the spinal cord
  • Undertaking wrong type of spinal surgery
  • Failure to use necessary equipment which could have alerted early neurological deterioration
  • Failing to maintain blood pressure during surgery which can cause damage to the spinal cord
  • Lack of necessary neurological observations after the surgery which can result in delayed diagnosis of any neurological deterioration

These possible failures can happen in preparation for, during or after spinal surgery.  However they are more likely to occur when an inexperienced surgeon operates or if the operation is carried out at a hospital which does not have the appropriate equipment or expertise available.

Spinal surgery is not without risk, but when an adverse event occurs, it can have devastating consequences for the patient.  These can include: paraplegia, tetraplegia, loss of bladder and bowel function, loss of sexual function, neuropathic pain or in the most severe cases death.  For this reason, if there are any concerns over the surgical procedures carried out in a NHS Trust it is imperative they are fully investigated.

In my view, the decision Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has made to cease spinal operations and injections until the external investigations into surgical practice have concluded is a sensible and measured decision and is in the best interests and safety of all patients.

Alex Dabek is Head of the the Spinal Injury team at Bolt Burdon Kemp.  If you or a loved one feel you may have suffered an injury as a result of an accident or someone else’s negligence or you are concerned about the treatment you have received, contact Alex free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4812 or at alexdabek@boltburdonkemp.co.uk.  Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Spinal Injury team will contact you.  Find out more about the Spinal Injury Team.

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