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Clinical Negligence Solicitor Paul Sankey on amputations and prosthetic limbs: A ‘bionic’ arm in Switzerland?

Watching disabled athletes such as Oscar Pistorius compete in the Olympics with their high-tech prosthetic legs you could be misled into underestimating quite how much disability Amputations cause. However acting for people who have undergone amputations makes us realise quite how disabling it can be. The reality is that most people who lose a limb, particularly a leg, cannot walk far, struggle with stairs and are highly limited in their daily activities.
 
Where their injury results from Medical Negligence their damages aim to put them in the position they would be in had negligence not occurred. This is of course a pipe dream. The best damages can really do is put them in a position where they can have the best possible quality of life, appropriate equipment, assistance and accommodation, overcoming so far as possible the limitations amputations bring.
 
Prosthetic limbs available privately go some way to increasing people’s function. One of my clients for instance has been able to carry on in the police despite an above-knee amputation as a result of getting him a top of the range ‘Genium’ leg. Compare that with a similar client a year or two before the Genium came out who ended up medically retired.
 
It is therefore of interest that a researcher in Switzerland has developed a prosthetic arm allowing patients to feel rudimentary sensations through their hand and fingers. It works by connecting directly to the median and ulna nerves of the arm so that it is operated by signals from the brain rather than by a patients moving his or her arm muscles. This sounds like the beginnings of a ‘bionic’ arm (for those old enough to remember the Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar ‘bionic’ man).
 
No doubt these are early days and its success will need to be tested. However it opens the prospect of a significant improvement in function to many patients who have lost limbs. Having seen quite what difference an award of damages can make in enabling people to replace poor quality NHS limbs with high quality private ones – my police officer client is only one example – I look forward to being able to do even better for people if the Swiss ‘bionic’ arm proves to work in practice.

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