Back pain and spinal injuries - the harm caused by incomplete assessments
Nandi Jordan, solicitor in our medical negligence team, discusses the need for thorough assessment for back pain and spinal injuries as part of our men’s health series for Movember.
Posted on 17 November 2021
Traumatic Spinal Injury
Approximately 1,000 people sustain a new spinal cord injury each year in the UK. These injuries are associated with serious neurological damage and can result in paraplegia, tetraplegia or death.
Although spinal injury affects all ages, young and middle aged men are one of the populations at highest risk.
Spinal injury usually involves a fracture of the spinal column, which sometimes leads to spinal cord injury. The main causes are road traffic collisions, falls, violent attacks, sporting injuries and domestic incidents.
There are NICE guidelines which should be followed by clinicians when they assess spinal injuries. These aim to improve the quality of emergency and urgent care to reduce death and disability by ensuring fractures of the spinal column and spinal injuries are quickly diagnosed and treated.
Unfortunately, we are finding that these guidelines are not always being followed by clinicians, causing our clients further serious injury.
Earlier this year I represented the family of Robert Walaszkowski. He was seen at A&E at Queen’s Hospital in Romford by an A&E Consultant. The guidance was not followed and a fracture in Robert’s spinal column was missed, Robert was discharged from hospital and later died.
At Leigh Day we have other clients who have sadly had similar experiences of not being properly assessed by the ambulance service or in A&E for a traumatic back injury. They have later been discharged and as a result have suffered spinal cord injuries which could have been avoided.
In the UK back pain affects 7 out of 10 people at some point in their lives. Back pain can be very uncomfortable but it is not usually serious. Nonetheless, back pain is the largest single cause of disability in the UK, with lower back pain alone accounting for 11% of the total disability of the UK population.
When someone presents with back pain, clinicians should be carrying out a full assessment, particularly if the pain has recently begun or has changed.
There are published red flag symptoms that clinicians should be looking for when assessing back pain. When these red flag symptoms are present, they may suggest a serious underlying cause, such as:
• Cauda equina syndrome
• Cancer of the spine
• Spinal fracture due to trauma or osteoporotic collapse
• Spinal infection
At Leigh Day we see many cases where our client has been seen by their GP or at A&E and the red flag symptoms have been missed. As a result of these failures a serious underlying cause of their back pain has not been picked up and treated, causing a longer period of illness and sometimes long-term disability or even death.
What we can do to help those who suffer avoidable back injuries
At Leigh Day we work with our clients to obtain compensation for their avoidable injuries caused by negligence.
We can conduct a thorough investigation with the help of leading medical experts, and we can try to get to the bottom of what went wrong in someone’s treatment.
We work with our clients to detail the impact of their injuries, and secure compensation. Compensation can include payments for the care clients have received from family and friends, past financial losses and loss of earnings. It can also provide funding for future specialist care and rehabilitation needs, specialist equipment and accommodation needs including modifications to a client’s existing home or the means to move to a new home which fits with their new accessibility needs.
Financial compensation can never restore what is lost through a serious injury, but it can significantly improve the life of an injured person.
Inquest into the death of Robert Walaszkowski
Robert Walaszkowski, who sustained a spinal injury and lost consciousness while under the care of a mental health unit, was discharged from the emergency department at Queen’s Hospital, Romford, without being given a spinal examination, an inquest into his death was told.