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Man calls on The Walton Centre to listen to patients to learn lessons from clinical negligence cases

A man who secured a seven figure settlement after post-operative care left him as a disabled person is urging The Walton Centre to listen to the views of patients to ensure lessons are learned in clinical negligence cases. 

Posted on 02 March 2020

Keith Fitton, aged 54, underwent surgery at The Walton Centre to correct the effects of a tethered spine which were worsening with age. The operation was carried out on a Friday before a bank holiday weekend, and delayed diagnosis of a blood clot in the days after the operation led to severe nerve damage which means Keith is now a wheelchair user. 

After his case was finally settled and compensation awarded without The Walton Centre admitting liability, Keith, himself a Registered Nurse, was anxious to talk to hospital bosses about lessons he believed could be learned from his story in order to protect other patients. However, his requests for talks with The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust were refused. 

As a result Keith decided to do his own research into the numbers of clinical negligence claims which have occurred at The Walton Centre since 2012 and the costs involved. He believes the figures he has secured through an FOI request demonstrate that lessons about inadequate patient care and the costs of fighting clinical negligence cases have not been learned. 

According to the FOI, in 2018-19 Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust paid out £6,572,845 in damages and legal costs in seven clinical negligence claims. Fourteen claims are still outstanding from that year. Another 20 unsettled claims date back to 2014. Between 2013 and 2018, clinical negligence cases cost the trust £7,489,137 in compensation payments and legal bills. 

Keith said:

“When something goes wrong in patient care, clinicians and hospital managers should be willing to immediately examine the reasons why, and to have an open conversation with the people affected. 

“Also, I believe that by fighting such clinical negligence cases, valuable resources that could be used in improving patient care are instead spent on the trust’s own legal costs, often over many years. 

“I would like the opportunity to talk to management at the Walton Centre to explain what I believe could be learned from my case. However, my offer was repeatedly refused.” 

Keith’s own claim was made after surgery at The Walton Centre in May 2013 and was finally settled in 2019. 
Keith was represented in his action by Leigh Day solicitors, who were able to secure the seven-figure settlement from The Walton Centre NHS Foundation Trust. 

Keith had been diagnosed with a malformation of the spinal vertebrae in 1985 which meant loss of reflexes and no pain sensation in his left foot. In his late 30s, Keith began to develop weakness in his lower left leg and some muscle wasting, but he lived a fully independent life including walking his dog for miles at a time, riding a motorbike and attending and photographing sporting events and working full time as a Registered Nurse, including for 15 years, managing services for people with physical disabilities.

The surgery at The Walton Centre was to untether his spinal cord. The plan was for him to remain in hospital for four days, on bedrest for 48-72 hours afterwards. 

The morning after the surgery, when Keith had been placed on a head injury rather than a spinal injury ward, he noticed a burning sensation in his right foot, which was also starting to rotate inwards when he moved it, and weakness in both legs. He reported these symptoms to medical staff but no action was taken to investigate an underlying cause. Over the next two days, Keith experienced further loss of power in both feet, which was noted by nursing staff but not acted upon. By the third day after surgery, Keith had lost all power in both feet and at that point, at his insistence, he was reviewed by a doctor who referred him for a scan which then led to surgery to remove a blood clot which was putting pressure on the spinal nerves. 

The clot was removed, but internal bleeding had left Keith with severe nerve damage which in turn meant that he is now a wheelchair user.

Keith said: 

“I believe if my operation had taken place on any other weekday than Friday, and if my recovery care had been on a unit dedicated to patients with spinal injuries, then the symptoms I suffered in the following three days would have been addressed earlier. 

“If the blood clot had been removed sooner, to remove pressure from nerves in my spine, then I would have made a full recovery. As it was, by the time I had the operation, the nerves affected were irreparably damaged and I now have limited mobility and must use a wheelchair as well as experiencing other problems associated with a spinal injury. 

“I am fortunate to have been able to secure a settlement which has given me the means to buy a bungalow and fund the necessary support I will need for the rest of my life, but I would like to know that lessons have been learned from my case. The Walton Centre's management's continued refusal to examine the errors suggests that future patients might still be exposed to unnecessary risk.”  

Stephen Jones, clinical negligence solicitor at Leigh Day, said: 

“I’m really glad that we were able to reach such a good settlement which will give Keith peace of mind and the freedom to enable him to continue living his life to the full. There was no doubt in my mind that with appropriate care his injuries would have been avoided and hopefully the agreed damages will make a material difference to his quality of life. 

“With Keith’s background as a nurse he was in an ideal position to discuss with The Walton Centre what he felt went wrong in his case and point out lessons that could be learned to ensure the same thing does not happen to another patient. However, his requests to discuss the matter have been dismissed, denying the hospital a valuable learning opportunity.”