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Settlement agreed following late diagnosis of spinal tumour in toddler

An NHS Trust has agreed to a settlement for a young boy after a spinal tumour went undiagnosed and caused permanent damage to surrounding nerves.

Posted on 01 July 2020

The boy, whom we have named George and who was aged three at the time, had been taken to A&E at his local hospital with severe pain in his right leg.
He was limping and very tearful and had also experienced an uncharacteristic episode of urinary incontinence. He had suffered a fall a few days previously and, although an x-ray scan showed no fracture, it was assumed that he had fractured his leg. After receiving treatment for the presumed fracture, he was discharged home.
However, George’s pain worsened and he began to find it difficult to pass urine. He was taken back to hospital on a number of occasions but the cause of his leg pain was not established. No areas of particular pain were found and he was noted to have a good range of leg movement. Further x-rays continued to show no signs of any fracture but his symptoms continued to worsen.
The working diagnosis of a leg fracture continued, however, and no examinations were carried out to test for a potential neurological cause of the pain.  George’s mother asked if an MRI scan should be taken to look for further possible causes, but no MRI scan was taken at this time.
With George’s pain continuing, and with the further worsening of bladder and now bowel problems, a neurological examination was eventually carried out around three weeks after George first went to the hospital. The examining doctor could not elicit a patellar reflex (knee jerk) in his right leg, which indicated a potentially serious neurological problem. An MRI scan was carried out urgently and revealed a tumour at the base of George’s spine, which was compressing and damaging the surrounding nerves.
George underwent urgent decompression surgery to alleviate the compression and the tumour was subsequently removed safely.
George’s pain was immediately improved after the operations and he was able to walk without pain. However, the damage done to the nerves controlling his urinary and bowel function proved to be permanent and will affect him for the remainder of his life.
The NHS Trust denied liability for George’s injuries. However, after the production of further expert medical evidence, a settlement was reached.
Michael Roberts, who worked with Sarah Campbell within Leigh Day’s clinical negligence team, said:
“This case demonstrates the importance of doctors keeping an open mind while working with provisional diagnoses.  We believe that some of George’s doctors fell into the trap of failing to properly consider the signs and symptoms, many of which did not fit with a suspected fracture, and re-assess accordingly, before considerable damage had been done to George. However, it is pleasing to see that an agreement has been reached which will help to give George a brighter future.”
Leigh Day worked with Henry Whitcomb QC of 1 Crown Office Row Chambers.

Michael Roberts
Amputation Birth injury Brain injury Cerebral palsy Inquests Spinal injury

Michael Roberts

Michael Roberts is a senior associate solicitor in the medical negligence department.

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