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Brain-damaged IVF patient receives substantial compensation for stroke

An IVF patient, who has permanent brain damage from a stroke caused by her treatment, has received very substantial compensation, in a settlement reached the day before her case was due to come to Court.

Posted on 06 July 2005

A 29 year‑old mother of one, was having IVF treatment, under the care of Mr Paul Rainsbury, to conceive her second child. It was during treatment at the private BUPA Roding hospital in Essex in 2000 that she began to develop Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome (OHSS), a rare but well‑known complication of fertility treatment. The syndrome can cause very serious problems including kidney failure, stroke, and even death if it is not properly treated.

During the treatment three embryos were transferred to the woman's uterus. Afterwards she began to feel unwell; her abdomen had swollen and was uncomfortable. Mr Rainsbury diagnosed mild OHSS, but did not carry out any blood tests or treat her. In these situations the syndrome either improves, or gets worse especially if the woman is in fact pregnant.

Ovarian Hyper stimulation Syndrome was diagnosed

The patient continued to feel worse and went back to see Mr Rainsbury who reassured her and prescribed steroids, which all experts in the case agreed were unlikely to be of any benefit.  Her condition deteriorated and she became more distressed. She phoned the hospital three times and it was alleged, on her behalf, that she spoke to Mr Rainsbury who reassured her that the symptoms probably meant that she was pregnant, and to continue with the steroids.

Mr Rainsbury has denied that this conversation took place. He said that his nurse had spoken to the patient who had telephoned to say she was feeling  'considerably better'.

The very next day she was feeling much worse, had developed a severe headache and problems with her eyesight.  She rang Mr Rainsbury who told her to ring 999. She was admitted to her local NHS hospital. Mr Rainsbury failed to ring the hospital to warn them that he was sending his patient in by ambulance or to tell them about his patient's rare condition, and how to treat her.

The woman was dehydrated and, according to the experts dealing with her legal case, had severe OHSS when she was admitted. Intervention and treatment were too late to prevent a blood clot, which caused a stroke later that day. Some weeks later she miscarried. Her  IVF doctor never visited her in hospital.

The stroke has left her severely disabled

She is now severely disabled: has problems with speech such as finding the right words; needs a wheelchair outside her home; cannot be left on her own; and cannot function unaided. If she had been admitted to hospital earlier, the stroke and her miscarriage would most probably have been prevented.

The case was settled when the Medical Defence Union, on behalf of Mr Rainsbury, agreed to pay very substantial damages and the woman's legal costs. Mr Rainsbury does not accept liability for his patient's stroke.

Mr Justice Nelson at the High Court approved the level of compensation. On the application of Mr James Badenoch QC, Counsel for the patient, the Court agreed that she should not be identified because of her disability.

She was represented by Russell Levy, joint head of the clinical negligence department: “This tragic case highlights, yet again, how doctors are prepared to make all sorts of promises as to the quality of their private treatment, but when complications occur, all too often the patient ends up as an emergency in an NHS hospital who have to try and treat her without having full records.  Thankfully, it is very rare for OHSS to progress to the stage where it causes serious harm, but all fertility specialists should be geared up to ensuring that when one of their patients becomes ill they are able to provide the proper treatment she needs promptly.”

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