Missed fracture of cervical spine

Posted by Gemma Osgood on

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BLClaims Solicitors successfully brought a claim on behalf of the estate of Mr S.

Whilst on a cruise ship, on 7 December 2007 Mr S fell from his bed in his cabin during rough seas and he sustained a hyperextension injury to his neck. He was airlifted to Truro Hospital.  An MRI scan and CT scan were carried out on his neck and a facture was diagnosed but it was believed to be stable. Mr S was transferred to the neurosurgical unit at a hospital in Plymouth.

On 8 December 2007 at 03.00 hours Mr S arrived at the hospital. It was noted that Mr S's legs were affected greater than his arms and he was nursed in an Aspen neck collar. On 10 December 2007 Mr S reported discomfort in his right shoulder and neck posteriorly and had paraesthesia in the tips of his fingers. On 11 December 2007 the Registrar noted that Mr S needed follow up by the neurosurgery team in the North of England, where he lived.

On 12 December 2007 Mr S was transferred to his local hospital for ongoing rehabilitation. However, the clinical notes and radiology did not accompany Mr S. On arrival Mr S was seen by a doctor who noted a stable C5 fracture managed conservatively.  Analgesia was prescribed for the pain.

On 14 December 2007 Mr S was seen by the Clinical Director on his ward round. He noted neck pain radiating to both shoulders and analgesia was prescribed. It was suggested that a re-trial with the neck collar should be made and it would be more tolerable now that Mr S was on oramorph pain relief. Later that day Mr S was seen by an orthopaedic consultant who noted that Mr S was transferred from Plymouth without a neck collar. The plan of care was to trace the x-rays from Plymouth and arrange for a new x-ray of Mr S's cervical spine. He was to continue wearing the soft collar he had now been prescribed.

On 15 December 2007 Mr S was noted to be tearful and complaining of severe neck pain; Oramorph was prescribed.  On  17 December 2007 Mr S was x-rayed again, but these x-rays were not reported until 19 December 2009 when it was confirmed that there was an unstable fracture through cervical vertebrae C5/6 which had displaced.

Over the next few days Mr S's condition deteriorated. He reported that he was unable to feel sensation in his legs and the power in right arm had deteriorated. It was decided to transfer Mr S to the Regional neurosurgical unit. It was recommended that he was transferred in a hard collar with paramedic crew.

On 25 December 2007 Mr S was transferred and he underwent surgery to stablise his cervical spine fracture. His paralysis did not however improve and he remained immobile and in need of considerable care support and assistance from his family. As a result of his spinal injury Mr S had various complications and in April 2008 he developed a chest infection and his respiratory status deteriorated.  His condition continued to deteriorate and eventually the decision was made to give palliative care. Mr S died on 15 May 2008.

At an inquest the Coroner decided that had Mr S been transferred to a specialist spinal injuries unit rather than the local hospital then it is likely that his unstable fracture would have been diagnosed earlier, therefore he would have received earlier surgical stabilisation which would have reduced his deterioration in neurological function and resulting complications thereby prolonging his life, albeit with some disability and degree of immobility.

BLClaims Solicitors successfully obtained £35,000 in damages for Mr S's estate to reflect the six months of pain and suffering leading to his death and the additional care provided by his family.

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About the Authors

Gemma is a Senior Associate in our Clinical Negligence team with extensive experience in all areas of medical negligence claims.

Gemma Osgood
Email Gemma
023 8085 7248

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Doctor and Solicitor Advocate John White leads the Clinical Negligence team. His medical background gives him a unique perspective and he has an excellent track record of achieving success for clients.

John White
Email John
020 7814 5449

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