Legal Victory After Spinal Surgery Left Woman With Permanent Injury

Expert Medical Lawyers Secure Five Figure Rehabilitation Care Package


A woman has been left with permanent nerve damage, affecting her leg and foot after there was a failure to identify that a metal screw had been incorrectly positioned during spinal surgery. 

Caroline Bielby, 36, from Beverley, in North Humberside had spinal surgery at Castle Hill Hospital in Cottingham on 27 April 2010 to improve a condition in her spine, but instead she was left in excruciating pain.  A screw was inserted incorrectly and was not identified for 18 months, despite her visiting clinicians more than 30 times to ask about the pain and progressive symptoms.

The position of the offending screw was in contact with a nerve and as a result, she experienced significant pain, pins and needles, weakness and progressive numbness in her leg and foot as the damage to the nerve increased over time.  Whilst the screw was eventually removed in March 2012, nearly two years after the original surgery, the damage to the nerve was irreversible and Caroline continues to experience weakness and numbness.

The mother-of-two instructed specialist medical lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate her case and Hull and East Yorkshire Hospital NHS Trust admitted there was a failure to arrange further imaging after the x ray performed on 29 April 2010 and that the MRI scan taken on 11 September 2010 was incorrectly interpreted causing Caroline to suffer neural irritation from a period of one week after the original x ray and until the revision surgery on 25 March 2012. 

Expert medical evidence obtained on Caroline’s behalf suggested that if the screw had been identified and removed shortly after the original surgery, as the Trust accepted that it should have been, the damage to the nerve would not have progressed and Caroline’s symptoms would have largely resolved.  She would therefore have avoided the permanent symptoms she has now been left with.

Caroline’s legal team have now secured her an undisclosed five-figure settlement to cover her loss of earnings as she was unable to return to work after the original surgery and will be unable to work in the same capacity in future.  The settlement will also fund further treatment to aid her recovery.

Caroline started to experience back pain whilst she was pregnant with her first daughter in 1999. In 2002 she was referred by her GP for an MRI scan and was told she had degeneration of the discs in her spine and it was likely that she would need surgery in the future, to repair the damage.

Over the next eight years, Caroline attended Beverley Westwood Hospital every six months for x-rays and an annual MRI scan to check on her condition.  The pain she was experiencing worsened and in 2010 she had surgery at Castle Hill Hospital to stabilise her spine.

Following her surgery, Caroline’s back pain improved but almost immediately, she became aware of a sharp excruciating pain in her left leg and left big toe.  Initially, she was told by her surgeon that this was due to nerve aggravation after he had untrapped nerves during the operation.  She was advised that the pain would settle and was nothing to be concerned about.

The pain did not settle and in the next few months, Caroline began to notice numbness and loss of feeling in her leg such that she described it as feeling ‘not like her own’. She continually complained to her GP, surgeon and physiotherapist about the extreme pain and altered sensation.

She was prescribed painkillers and further physiotherapy to try and relieve her pain but nothing seemed to help. The pain and numbness was increasing, leaving her unable to work and in need of constant help from her partner Steve, family and friends.

By early 2011, the numbness in Caroline’s left foot and leg had begun to spread and she had lost the feeling all the way up to two inches below her knee cap.

By June 2011, Caroline’s symptoms were still increasing rather than improving and her GP finally referred her for a second opinion which she had asked for.  At the end of September 2011 Caroline was seen by another surgeon at Hull Royal Infirmary, and finally got some answers as to the cause of her pain.

Caroline had a CT scan and x-ray which identified one screw that was clearly at a different angle to all of the others and the surgeon explained that the top of the screw was rubbing away at the nerves causing the pain and loss of feeling in her leg and foot.  Caroline was told she would need further surgery to remove the screw and underwent an operation in March 2012.

Katie Warner, an expert medical lawyer at Irwin Mitchell’s Leeds office, who represented Caroline, said: “The impact of the surgery on Caroline’s life has been devastating. She struggled with her symptoms for years and when she sought advice, no one identified the cause of the problems and she was made to feel that it was ‘all in her head’. 

“Understandably, she feels very let down by the medical professionals she trusted.  Caroline’s symptoms have affected her ability not only to work, but to carry out her day-to-day life with her family and all of this has had a significant impact on her confidence.  She feels that she is not the bubbly, outgoing person that she was before all of this happened.

“The screw’s position was indicated on an x-ray taken just two days after the initial surgery and because it wasn’t spotted and rectified for two years it has now caused permanent damage to the nerves, leaving Caroline suffering needlessly.

“We are pleased that the Trust admitted liability and the settlement reflects the severity of Caroline’s condition and the impact it has had on her life. Sadly the mistakes that were made have left Caroline in an even more debilitating position than she was before surgery. We hope the Trust has learnt from this and will ensure that patient safety is improved in follow up to future spinal surgery.”

Commenting on her case, Caroline said: “The last few years have been a complete nightmare and I am still in pain and experience weakness and numbness in my leg and foot which will never go away due to the damage to my nerves.

“I don’t feel like the same person as I was before the operation, but I do try to remain positive each day. It is very difficult, especially struggling with the little things in life that we all take for granted such as taking my youngest to and from school, or not being able to do the housework like I used to be able to do. I haven’t been able to work since the surgery and I would love to do so, but unfortunately due to my condition I am very limited as to what work I can do.

“I am pleased and relieved that with the help from my legal team at Irwin Mitchell the case has now come to a conclusion and I can start to move on from it all.

“I feel I was let down by the NHS as I felt I was passed from pillar to post for two years whilst I was experiencing the most excruciating pain of my life. I hope that lessons have been learned by the Trust to prevent this happening to anyone else.”