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        Case Study: Mrs B's back pain delay in diagnosis

        Mrs B had been suffering from chronic back pain for a number of years. She had been advised there were few treatment options, undergoing a number of steroid injections. In July 2012, Mrs B decided to have spinal surgery in response to the ever worsening back pain. The operation appeared to go without complications and post operative symptoms were encouraging. However, 6 weeks post-op Mrs B felt a sharp pain in her lower back after picking up a heavy object. From then she began to suffer considerable lower back pain which radiated into her hip and leg.

        Over the coming 5 months, Mrs B saw many different medical practitioners, including nurses, physiotherapists and GP’s. Most of these professionals attributed her symptoms to the natural post operative process and described increasing degrees of pain medication. However, she did not have any follow-up consultations with a spinal surgeon in that period, despite having major spinal surgery. This fact was criticized profoundly by our experts. When she eventually saw a spinal surgeon and described her symptoms, the correct steps were taken to organise an MRI and CT scan. However, the surgeon crucially failed to organise a blood test to rule out the possibility of infection. This delayed the diagnosis of multiple abscesses and osteomyelitis, which indicated that there was an infection in her spinal chord. Eventually after months of pain and little treatment, Mrs B collapsed and was rushed by ambulance to hospital. On examination, several abscesses were discovered in Mrs B’s spine. She was given a regime of antibiotics and was in hospital for almost 2 months.

        A doctor’s duty to a patient involves advice, treatment and diagnosis. Whilst there was little problem with the advice and treatment that our client received, the delay in diagnosis of the infection was not to the standard of a reasonable healthcare system. Mrs B was passed between over 20 different health professionals, although not a spinal surgeon. This contributed to a serious delay in her treatment that resulted in our client’s prolonged suffering. Had the client been diagnosed earlier, she would not have suffered in that specific way at that specific time.  Although a long recovery time was almost inevitable given the client’s history of chronic back pain and major spinal surgery, there was on balance a significant increase in the pain she had to suffer beyond what was necessary. Although it is difficult to make long term predictions, our experts have also reasoned that this delay will have a long term effect on Mrs B future prognosis. Following a letter of claim, we have managed to get Mrs B compensation amounting to a 5 figure settlement.

        It is important to realise that some complications are inevitable in medicine. Infections during surgery are rare but can happen. Furthermore they are often difficult to diagnose until much later on. However, a failure to diagnose a patient until she confused with systemic infection does fall below a reasonable standard of care. Our client’s ordeal underlines the importance of seeing the correct specialists who have the necessary skill and experience to correctly diagnose symptoms.