Delay In Treating Back Problem Leads To Lifelong Disability

Lawyer Calls For Hospitals To Prove Lessons Are Learned

01.03.2011

A 63 year old West Midlands man, who has been left with permanent spinal damage after two hospitals failed to spot that he required urgent surgery, has received a substantial six figure out of court settlement.

George Hubble, from Willenhall, suffered a prolapsed disc causing pressure on the spinal cord, which went undetected for over 24 hours and led to him suffering irreversible nerve damage. He now has difficulty walking and has been left with debilitating bladder and bowel damage.

Walsall University Hospital NHS Trust and University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust made no admissions of liability for failures in his care, despite such signs being a known surgical emergency.

Now, a medical negligence expert at Irwin Mitchell Solicitors is calling for lessons to be learned by both Trusts involved to protect patient safety in the future.

Mr Hubble, who ran a double glazing business, had suffered from back problems for several months but on 16th April 2007, as he stepped out of his work van, he stubbed his foot on the kerb, causing immense pain in his lower back.  He managed to drive back to the office where he collapsed in pain. 

Staff called an ambulance and he was taken to Walsall Manor Hospital. He was examined by a doctor who initially told him that there was no damage to either his spine or back and a nurse was instructed to arrange his discharge.  Mr Hubble then mentioned he was developing numbness in his groin, lower back and sides and along the back of his feet and legs.

Doctors re-examined him and ordered an X-ray before admitting him to a ward for observation.

Tim Deeming a medical negligence expert at Irwin Mitchell, who represented George Hubble, explained: “George’s symptoms of numbness in his groin and legs meant he should have undergone an urgent MRI scan that day. This would have revealed that he was in fact suffering from a large prolapsed disc which was pressing on the nerves – a serious medical condition known as ‘cauda equina’ which requires urgent surgery in order to prevent permanent damage.

However, it was not until Mr Hubble had an MRI scan on the morning of April 17, which showed the prolapsed disc and he was transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham in the early hours of 18th April. Even then, it was not until the afternoon of April 18th that Mr Hubble finally underwent surgery.

Mr Deeming continued: “Independent medical experts have told us that the hospital had a 24 hour window of opportunity to carry out surgery. We know that, prior to Mr Hubble being transferred to the QE, there were telephone discussions between doctors at both hospitals about his condition.

“We have been unable to find out if the delay in surgery resulted from Walsall Hospital failing to appreciate the gravity of the situation or if in fact staff at the QE failed to advise an urgent transfer.

“Either way, this was a fundamental error that should have been avoided if the hospitals had acted promptly.  I am particularly concerned that there was such a slow response to Mr Hubble’s ‘red flag’ symptoms which should have rung alarm bells with doctors. 

“Instead, the delay in an accurate diagnosis meant that irreversible damage was done to his nerve endings, leaving him with permanent mobility issues and debilitating bowel and bladder problems. We very much hope that lessons have now been learned by the Trusts so that patient safety is not put at risk in the future.”

Mr Hubble commented: “Before this happened, I had always been a very fit and active man and ran my own business Now I have difficulty walking even 100 yards and need a walking stick to support myself.  Worse still are the problems the nerve damage has caused internally. The bowel and bladder problems I suffer are understandably embarrassing and debilitating. The injuries affect virtually aspect of my every day life and although it’s something I have learned to live with it never goes away.”

In a bid to raise awareness and support for other people who have suffered ‘cauda equina’ injuries, Tim Deeming, Mr Hubble and other clients who have suffered similar problems are now linking in with the Spinal Injuries Association.