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Settlement For Man Paralysed After Doctors Failed To Correctly Monitor Him Following Routine Op

Settlement Will Cover Costs Of Adapted Home and Lifetime of Care and Rehabilitation


A social worker who once cared for people with spinal injuries has received a settlement from the NHS after his own injuries left him paralysed from the waist down because doctors failed to correctly monitor him after a routine hip operation at the Birmingham Royal Orthopaedic Hospital.

Stephen Onley, 56, from Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, was left devastated after he was given an epidural in December 2010 and suffered complications resulting in a lack of blood to the spine, which caused irreparable damage because he was not being properly monitored. Five years later Stephen has to use a wheelchair to get around and has had to give up his job.

Now expert medical negligence lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have secured Stephen a £2m settlement which will enable him to adapt his property, build a hydrotherapy pool, buy wheelchairs and equipment, an adapted car and continue with his therapy. He will also receive annual payments to pay for his required daily care and support.

Problems first began when, on December 6, 2010, Stephen underwent routine resurfacing surgery on his right hip.  Whilst under general anaesthetic, doctors inserted a spinal epidural to help control post-operative pain.  Stephen had been set against but was persuaded at the last minute to agree to an epidural when he felt he had no choice.

Even though medics would have been well aware that a spinal epidural can cause a patient’s blood pressure to drop post-operatively, in the hours that followed routine blood pressure checks were missed.  By the following day Stephen’s blood pressure had fallen dangerously low, resulting in a lack of blood to his spinal cord, which caused irreparable damage.

It was then not until the early hours of December 8 that night-staff suspected there might be a problem as Stephen appeared to have no feeling or movement from the waist down and was having problems passing urine.  An MRI scan later that day confirmed that Stephen would never be able to walk again.  Complications also led to him suffering a perforated bowel and he was later transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital for emergency surgery.

Stephen spent more than two months in hospital and a further six months in a specialist spinal injuries unit, before finally being allowed home in August 2011.

The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Trust has since admitted full responsibility for both the irreversible spinal damage which occurred as a result of failing to correctly monitor him, as well as a perforated bowel which he suffered as a result of the spinal injury.

Stephen said: “I had spent more than 35 years caring for people with spinal injuries and so I was only too aware that epidurals carry a small, but nevertheless serious, risk of paralysis. I had made up my mind not to have an epidural under any circumstances but was told that it was recommended.

“As a result of the mistakes the hospital made through not monitoring my blood pressure, I will never walk again. My lack of mobility has meant that I had developed awful pressure sores and for long periods of time throughout the past five years I have been virtually bedridden.  I am now completely reliant upon my wife who has to care for me round the clock. 

“My life has been changed forever since this incident and nothing will ever be the same again. The settlement gives me the peace of mind that I will be able to access the rehabilitation and therapies I need to help me live as independently as possible.

“It will be nice to finally be able to complete the adaptations to my house, so it is fully accessible.  The house that we lived in when I was injured was really difficult to adapt.  Luckily we were able to incorporate some outbuildings to make an accessible bedroom and wet room for me whilst my case was being investigated. 

“The Client Liaison Manager at Irwin Mitchell gave us invaluable help with this, as she was able to speak to the Local Authority and persuade them that this was a better option that turning my living room into a bedroom which was their suggestion.  It still wasn’t ideal, because all the rooms in the house were really too small for me to be able to wheel around.  We were eventually able to move to a larger house, which is where I am now, and it will be fantastic when I can finally finish adapting it to meet my needs both now and in the future.

Lindsay Tomlinson, a Partner and specialist medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell’s Birmingham office, representing him, said: “Stephen and Caroline were understandably devastated by what happened and it has been life-changing for them both. Stephen was fit and active before the hip surgery and assumed that a few weeks after the operation he would be recovering and back at work.


“Sadly mistakes were made which where wholly avoidable and Stephen will now need daily care and support for the rest of his life.  Although no amount of money will ever turn back the clock for Stephen, we are pleased to be able to secure a fair settlement to provide Stephen with the financial support he requires to pay for adaptations to his house as well as the special equipment, care and rehabilitation needed to help rebuild his life.”


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