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Patient receives six-figure settlement following Hospital’s failings to diagnose Cauda equina syndrome

A man was left permanently disabled after staff in the A&E department of Darent Valley Hospital failed to act upon the signs of cauda equina syndrome.

Posted on 24 November 2022

Cauda equina syndrome is a medical emergency requiring prompt diagnosis and urgent treatment. It is caused by dysfunction of the bundle of nerves below the end of the spinal cord, which control sensation and function of the lower half of the body (to include the bladder and bowel) and a failure to act promptly to this spinal emergency results in life long severe disability.

Although considered rare, the “red flags” are well known to medical professionals, who should refer patients for investigations for cauda equina syndrome if they present with one or more of the following:

  • Urinary retention
  • Urinary and/or faecal incontinence
  • Saddle anesthesia/sensory disturbance to the anus, genitals, and buttock region
  • Weakness or paralysis of lower limbs
  • Pain in the back and/or legs
  • Sexual dysfunction

The man, who we will call Paul, had at least three “red flag” symptoms when he presented to A&E at Darent Valley Hospital. Unfortunately, the clinician who saw him dismissed his complaints as sciatica and he was sent home with painkillers despite him being in extreme pain and unable to stand.

It took the actions of a community GP, who assessed Paul over 24 hours later and who straight away recognised the signs of cauda equina syndrome, to contact the Hospital to demand that they investigate.

In Paul’s case, although he was eventually sent for MRI scanning and the imaging revealed compression of cauda equina nerves, sadly by that time the window for optimum recovery from surgery had passed. Thankfully in his case, he could access intensive residential therapy and rehabilitation and he can now walk again. However, he still lives with urinary and defecatory urgency, pain, and weakness to his lower limbs and has difficulties with sexual function and, psychological problems.

Clinical negligence specialist and Leigh Day partner Anna Brothers was instructed to investigate whether the clinicians at the Hospital were to blame for the Paul’s spinal injury. Liability was eventually admitted by the Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, who admitted that the care and treatment provided by their staff was substandard and a six-figure settlement figure was negotiated.

Paul said:

“Anna and her team where fantastic in helping me win my claim for medical negligence. I was extremely satisfied with the outcome.”

Anna Brothers said:

“The settlement figure will go some way to help Paul recover financially and to meet treatment costs in the future. However, he is aware that others might not have been as lucky as him to have recovered to the extent he has, and he urges those who have suffered in similar circumstances to reach out the medical negligence department at Leigh Day.”

Anna and her team are happy to listen to your story free of charge and to give preliminary advice on whether you might have a claim. Anna can be contacted at abrothers@leighday.co.uk and 0207 650 1332.

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