International Composer Left Disabled By Hospital Mistakes Wins Battle For Justice

Expert Lawyers Say Lessons Must Be Learnt After Terrifying Experience


A critically-acclaimed international composer left wheelchair bound when a hospital misdiagnosed his fractured spine as a urine infection is calling for lessons to be learnt after winning his battle for justice against the NHS.

Talented Andrew Downes, from Birmingham, who has travelled around the world attending performances of his compositions and has had work broadcast on national and international TV and radio, was admitted to Russells Hall Hospital, Dudley, after falling over at home in October 2009.

The 61-year-old complained of severe back pain and was given morphine, but the hospital diagnosed a urine infection and failed to send him for an X-ray which would have highlighted his fractured spine. As a result of the delay he lost all feeling in both legs after developing a complete spinal cord injury.

The married father-of-two enlisted the help of medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell in a battle to find answers, to get the musician the lifetime of care he will require and to help him live as independently as possible through his continued rehabilitation, after his family made a complaint which did not receive any apology.

And Andrew joined medical negligence experts from the law firm in calling on Dudley Group Of Hospitals NHS Trust to prevent other patients receiving the same sub-standard level of care after they admitted responsibility for his injuries.

Andrew, a grandfather of three, had suffered from inflammatory back pain and a fused spine for many years, but had refused to let it hold him back in a highly successful career which saw him create 17 CDs, perform for royalty and be awarded a Professorship in Composition and Creative Studies at the Birmingham Conservatoire.

Doctors failed to take into consideration the back condition which left him at high risk of injuring his spine and Irwin Mitchell found a catalogue of errors by the hospital which highlighted that they:
• Diagnosed a urine infection without thorough tests
• Failed to examine his back sufficiently through tests
• Failed to send him for an X-ray which would have highlighted the damage
• Failed to ensure he was kept completely still, instead taking him for painful walks round the ward which were likely to have caused more damage.

It wasn’t until he had lost all movement and feeling in his legs that he was taken for scans which highlighted the fractures to his spine that caused irreparable damage.

Timothy Deeming, a medical law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Birmingham office who represents Andrew, said: “Andrew is a remarkable man who has shown incredible strength and resolution despite the disabilities he now faces as a result of the failures by Dudley Group of Hospitals NHS Trust.

“His work has moved and inspired people for many years and he himself has become an inspiration through his determination to get back to doing what he loves and does best.

“Whilst Andrew appreciates the Trust’s admissions and feels he has gained some justice, we hope that they will learn from their mistakes. Patient safety has to be the number one priority for any NHS trust and we hope the sub-standard level of care he received will not be repeated in the future.

“We are now working with Andrew to ensure that he receives the necessary funds and support to provide him with the life-long rehabilitation he now requires to live as independently as possible.”

Remarkably, Andrew went back to work just ten months after the fall, and is now hosting a 10 year anniversary concert in aid of Paraplegic Sports in Birmingham in October this year.

Andrew said: “The back pain was far worse than anything I’d experienced before and I knew it definitely wasn’t a urine infection. When I was asked to walk around it made the pain excruciating, I knew something wasn’t right.

“I was put on morphine for the pain which left me disorientated and drifting in and out of consciousness and one time I woke up and I had lost all feeling in my legs. It was a terrifying feeling. To be walking around one day, and then unable to move little more than 24 hours later was beyond belief.

“I have three young grandchildren and to be unable to run around and play with them is devastating.

“Now that the Trust has admitted their mistakes I just hope they take note and improve their care in future. I wouldn’t want anyone to experience what I am going through.

“I’m determined not to let my disabilities stop me and hope to continue composing for many years to come.  I hope that the concert in October will raise both awareness and funds for paraplegic sports.”