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Woman receives six figure settlement following ambulance trust’s alleged failure to detect “red flag” symptoms

A woman has a received six figure settlement against an ambulance trust, following their alleged failure to detect “red flag” symptoms of a spinal condition.

Posted on 23 April 2024

The patient, who we have called Jennifer, now suffers irreversible neurological damage.

Jennifer, who was in her 20s at the time, had a long-standing history of lower back pain, for which she had been prescribed a combination of medications. However, the effectiveness of the pain control eventually began to decrease, and in 2017 Jennifer’s pain had intensified to an unbearable level.

A few days before an investigative magnetic resonance imaging scan (MRI) appointment, a paramedic was sent to Jennifer’s house following a call to her GP and NHS 111.

She described suffering symptoms of cauda equina syndrome, a rare and severe spinal condition where the nerves in the lower back suddenly become severely compressed. Despite this, Jennifer was not transferred to hospital for further investigation or treatment.

Her symptoms included severe pain, numbness around her thigh and saddle region, and difficulties passing urine. Two days later, paramedics were called out again when her symptoms worsened, and Jennifer emphasised that she had been advised to look out for warning signs of cauda equina. This was dismissed, and she was advised to continue to take painkillers and await the MRI the following day.

After the MRI had taken place, the same day Jennifer went straight to A&E where she was diagnosed with cauda equina syndrome and was told that she required urgent decompression surgery and discectomy. Following the surgery, she suffered reduced mobility which meant that she required assistance to be able to carry out daily tasks such as showering and preparing meals.

Jennifer's legal team consisted of Suzanne White, Matthew Westlake and Emma Thomson of Leigh Day's medical negligence department in a claim against the ambulance service.

Leigh Day argued that this negligence had caused her to develop irreversible neurological damage and has seriously impacted her physical and mental wellbeing.  

The Ambulance Service Trust did not admit liability.

Matthew Westlake said: 

“It was Leigh Day’s view that there had been several missed opportunities for our client to have been diagnosed with cauda equina syndrome, which would have enabled surgery in a timelier manner. We argued that this would have prevented the poor outcome she suffered. However, this was a complex case with liability denied by the Trust throughout.  

“Following settlement negotiations, I am pleased that we were able to recover a substantial sum, which I hope will help Jennifer enjoy a better quality of life into the future.” 

Matthew Westlake
Birth injury Brain injury Cerebral palsy Surgical negligence

Matthew Westlake

Matthew Westlake is a senior associate solicitor in the medical negligence department.

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