A woman whose life was devastated after emergency surgery was delayed for several hours has spoken of her relief after being awarded almost £1m in compensation following a battle with the NHS.
Claire Thornber, of Citheroe, lost her business and her marriage and lives with constant pain after errors by both a privately operated mobile scanning unit contracted by the NHS and an NHS hospital.
Claire (42) was suffering from serious spinal injury cauda equina syndrome and the blunders meant that emergency surgery was delayed by several hours.
If the errors had not been made Claire would have made a near full recovery. However, she has been left with significant and constant pain in her legs, is doubly incontinent and with loss of sexual function.
Claire was helped to challenge the mistakes by spinal injury specialists at JMW Solicitors. After JMW’s intervention, the East Lancashire Primary Care Trust, responsible for the Royal Blackburn Hospital and for contracting the private MRI scanning unit, admitted responsibility for the errors and has now paid her £925,000 in compensation.
The money will pay for accommodation suitable for Claire’s disabilities, specialist equipment and is also aimed to compensate her for the loss of her business and significant impact on her personal life.
In the wake of her ordeal, Claire also set up a support and awareness raising organisation, the Cauda Equina Syndrome Association, to help other sufferers of the debilitating condition.
Claire said: “I lost everything to cauda equina syndrome, but the tragedy is that if there had been greater awareness of the need for urgency things would have been so different. The impact of the errors has been huge.
“Before my injury I ran a successful cleaning business, but it was no longer an option due to the pain and my disability. All sense of normal life quickly vanished and the strain of everything caused my marriage to break down.
“Even socialising was made impossible. No amount of compensation will ever make up for that, but I am relieved that I’ll now have some help to cope and try to make the best of things.
I lost everything to cauda equina syndrome, but the tragedy is that if there had been greater awareness of the need for urgency things would have been so different. The impact of the errors has been hugeClaire Thornber
“I set up the Cauda Equina Syndrome Association as I wanted to help to prevent others from going through the same ordeal by spreading the message about the red flag signs. The condition wrecks lives, but with early diagnosis and treatment it doesn’t have to be that way and things need to change so that medical staff are more alert.”
Eddie Jones, head of medical negligence at JMW and a specialist in spinal injury cases, represented Claire in her legal battle against the primary care trust.
He said: “Claire’s case is one of many we have seen where there was a clear lack of appreciation of the urgency of the patient’s situation. Cauda equina syndrome is treatable and sufferers can make a complete recovery. However, they currently face the ‘luck of the draw’ as to whether the signs will be acted on promptly.
“In Claire’s case there was evidence of an urgent problem with her spine on an MRI scan. However, the radiographer at the mobile unit failed to recognise it was an emergency and delayed acting on it. When the scan was eventually reported the radiologist at the Royal Blackburn Hospital also failed to take urgent action and Claire was left to deteriorate.”
Claire’s ordeal began in August, 2010, when she began to suffer severe pain in her back which radiated down her legs. Claire was referred for an MRI scan, which took place at a mobile unit operated by a private company but contracted by the NHS. The MRI showed a prolapsed disc which was pressing on the cauda equina nerves at the base of Claire’s spine. The nerves are responsible for sensation in the lower half of the body and bowel, bladder and sexual function.
However, the radiographer failed to treat it as an emergency, as did the radiologist at the Royal Blackburn Hospital when they received the scan report.
Three days later Claire began to show “red flag signs” of cauda equina syndrome, including an abnormal sensation in her bowels, numbness in her groin and saddle area and difficulty passing urine. Claire’s GP suspected cauda equina syndrome and contacted an orthopaedic surgeon at the Royal Blackburn Hospital. Claire was sent to Preston Royal Hospital for specialist care and underwent surgery the next day. However, by now it was too late to prevent permanent damage from being caused.
Claire raises awareness of the condition via her organisation the Cauda Equina Syndrome Association to try to ensure medical professionals are alert to the signs and take urgent action.
For more information about CESA visit www.ihavecaudaequina.com.