Medical Negligence

Delayed diagnosis of Cauda Equina Syndrome

Our client shares her story of how she suffered a three-year history of back pain before being diagnosed with CES.

27 September 2022

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At Slater and Gordon, we’re proud partners of Cauda Equina Champions Charity. The patient-led organisation aims to raise awareness of cauda equina syndrome and support those living with the condition. Our experts are currently working with a client who experienced a delayed diagnosis of her Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES). Here, we share Sarah’s* story, and how our specialist medical negligence solicitors are helping her to take the next steps moving forward.

Our client

Our client, Sarah, suffered from a painful three years of back pain before she was eventually diagnosed with Cauda Equina Syndrome in August 2021. CES is a serious medical emergency caused by compression or damage to the spinal canal, which requires immediate referral for investigation and possible urgent surgical intervention. Without prompt treatment, adverse consequences can include permanent neurological damage.

On 2nd August 2021, Sarah attended her local Accident and Emergency department with pain in her right lower limb. She rated the pain as an eight out of ten and was also unable to lift her right leg during this attendance. Sarah was originally informed that she would need to be referred for an MRI scan, but was subsequently told this wasn’t an option and she should speak to her GP for a referral. Sarah was discharged with paracetamol and ibuprofen. She wasn’t informed of the ‘red flag’ symptoms for CES before being discharged.

The following day Sarah rang her GP and informed them of her Accident and Emergency attendance. She also let them know that during the night she had suffered with symptoms of bladder incontinence. The GP confirmed that he felt Sarah may be suffering from CES. He informed her that it would take around two weeks for him to organise an MRI and advised her instead to attend the Accident and Emergency department again to request an urgent MRI.

On 4th August 2021, Sarah returned to A&E, explaining both her symptoms and the advice she had received from her GP regarding suspected CES. Sarah felt she was dismissed during this attendance and noted several unprofessional responses from the triage nurse.

Sarah was then assessed by a doctor who noted that she was suffering from sciatica, not CES. She was discharged with diazepam and naproxen and was told to ring her GP again to request an MRI. Despite the progression of Sarah’s condition, she still wasn’t warned about the ‘red flag’ symptoms to look out for, nor was she advised to return if her condition worsened. Instead, she was told to liaise directly with her GP.

When home, Sarah rang her GP and informed him what had happened. She recalls her GP being shocked by the hospital’s response and urging her to attend A&E again as he couldn’t rule out CES. On 5th August 2021, Sarah attended a different A&E department, where she was referred to neurosurgery. She was assessed by a neurosurgeon at 2:00pm, who sent her for an MRI. The MRI confirmed causa equina syndrome, and Sarah underwent emergency surgery on the same day. Sarah was discharged from hospital four days later.

Whilst she was advised that a follow up appointment would take place two months after her discharge, this didn’t happen. She wasn’t provided with information on the recovery time from the surgery, or referred to any therapists to assist her with her recovery.

Sarah was given the contact details for a clinical nurse specialist, but she has only met with him once since her discharge in August 2021. As her symptoms began to deteriorate, she attempted to contact him several times with no luck. Sarah was left to manage her recovery alone, with no guidance or advice.

Since the surgery, Sarah has suffered from a resurgence in sciatic pain, she has progressive loss of sensation, and urinary incontinence. She relies on a walking stick to mobilise and can only walk for ten minutes before needing to rest, relying on daily support from her friends and family.

How are Slater and Gordon helping?

After recognising the shortfalls in the standard of care she received, Sarah got in contact with CES Champions, who helped her come to terms with what had happened. Speaking of her experience with the charity, Sarah said: “After my CES diagnosis I believed there would be an aftercare system in place for my rehab and recovery once discharged from hospital, but quickly realised this couldn’t have been further from the truth.

My life had fundamentally changed over night, I was coping also with PTSD from my experiences in A&E, and with no support forthcoming from the NHS I felt extremely alone. When I contacted Claire from CES Champions, I felt like I was finally speaking to someone who understood what I was going through, and who cared. Her advice, encouragement and humour was invaluable at a time when I felt there was no help and little hope.”

After taking the next step and reaching out to Slater and Gordon, Sarah’s spoke with our experts in a confidential consultation and was advised of her options going forward. She’s now working with our specialist medical negligence team to take the relevant legal action with a designated lawyer.

When you choose to make a medical negligence claim with our experts, it won’t affect your treatment in any way. The number one priority is your recovery, and your right to ongoing treatment isn’t impacted by choosing to take legal action.

Our experts know that the earlier any required rehabilitation and treatment begins, the better your chance of recovery is. This is why we seek early interim payments (when permitted) for our clients, to ensure that you have access to any rehabilitation and treatment needed to maximise your chance of recovery and future independence.

Speaking on the charity's work, Emma Doughty, head of our medical negligence team said: "Slater and Gordon is proud to support Cauda Equina Champions in their tireless work to improve care for cauda equina patients. Claire Thornber and her team are passionate about the work they do and ensuring that individuals receive the support they are entitled to. We are honoured to be able to support a part of that work in providing legal advice and assistance to anyone who feels that their outcome has been affected by substandard care."

Our medical negligence experts were nominated as finalists for Clinical Negligence Team of the Year in the Manchester Law Society Manchester Legal Awards 2022, and work with some of the best case managers and medical experts in the field. We’ll always ensure you get the best possible care and assistance for your specific injuries after a medical misdiagnosis.

Simply call us today on 0330 041 5869 to speak to an expert about your potential claim, or contacts us online here.

*Our client's name has been changed for confidentiality

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