Elderly Man Died Following Fractured Neck Which Hospital Failed To Diagnose For Two Months

Patrick Byrne was left paralysed after undiagnosed injury led to compression of his spinal cord.

14.07.2016

Hayley Court, Press Officer | 0114 274 4255

An elderly man died paralysed and in pain after medics at a Bath hospital failed to diagnose a neck fracture which gradually compressed his spinal cord during his stay.

Mr Byrne had been living independently at his Melksham home when he was admitted to the Royal United Hospital following a fall and with pneumonia on May 23, 2015.

During his admission his neck dropped onto his chest and he was unable to move it, but despite pleas from the family to have the issue investigated, staff at the hospital did not scan the 87-year-old’s neck until July 6, at which point he’d become paralysed.

Mr Byrne’s family instructed expert medical negligence lawyers Irwin Mitchell to investigate the octogenarian’s care after it was found he’d suffered a neck fracture which had led to compression of the spinal cord and caused tetraplegia.

Mr Byrne never recovered and died on October 21, last year.

A two-day inquest into Mr Byrne’s death, concluded at Avon Coroner’s Court in Flax Bourton today, found the former  production manager was let down by numerous medical staff who failed to carry out proper examinations of act quickly when serious signs and symptoms were identified.

Mr Byrne’s spinal cord compression was finally flagged up by a physiotherapist who reported her concerns to junior doctors on Friday, July 3 but no action was taken over the weekend when no doctors were present on the acute geriatric ward.

By the time Mr Byrne was seen by a consultant the following Monday and scanned, it was too late to prevent his paralysis.

The coroner also identified poor record-keeping at the hospital “at all levels” and said there were many people involved in the failures which left frail Mr Byrne in distress and discomfort, rather than a single staff member.

Royal United Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been told to explore the failings and report back with an action plan to ensure they are not repeated. If the strategy fails to satisfy the coroner he may invoke powers enshrined in law to force change within the organisation. Mr Byrne’s daughter Elizabeth Porter said she was disappointed the coroner stopped short of ruling that her father’s death was due to neglect, describing the conclusion as ‘bizarre’ in light of the evidence that had been heard at the inquest.

Elizabeth, from Epsom, said: “We are still struggling to come to terms with Dad’s death, most of all because we can’t escape the fact that he suffered considerably before he died.

“The standard of care my father received fell well below what should have been expected and, if the neck fracture had been diagnosed earlier he could have had treatment which would have avoided the paralysis and his last months would not have been as distressing as they ultimately were.

“We sincerely hope that now the coroner has delivered his conclusion, lessons can be learnt by Royal United Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to ensure that no other patient suffers as my father did and no other family is left questioning their loved one’s care as we have found ourselves doing.” 

The Trust now has 56 days to return its action plan to the coroner.

Expert Opinion
“Elizabeth and the rest of Mr Byrne’s family had many questions about his care, not least why it took so long to scan what we now know to be a neck fracture which led to considerable pain and ultimately paralysis for Mr Byrne before his death.

“We will now be reviewing the coroner’s findings with Mr Byrne’s family and advising them on the next steps available to them.”
Jonathan Peacock, Partner

If you have lost a loved one due to fatal negligence, we may be able to help you claim compensation. See our Medical Negligence Guide for more information.