A hospital has agreed to pay £35,000 damages to a patient after admitting botching a spinal procedure – having not gained proper consent to do it in the first place.
Father-of-two David Stewart, 34, was being treated at Leicester Royal Infirmary for suspected meningitis when doctors carried out the lumbar puncture procedure, which tests for conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord and other parts of the nervous system.
However, the hospital had failed to ask the permission of Mr Stewart or any of his family members, before carrying out the procedure, which sees a needle inserted into the lower part of the spine.
Mr Stewart recalled that a trainee nurse had four failed attempts, and that a consultant also failed before a sixth attempt finally proved successful.
As a result, he sought legal advice about his treatment from medical negligence specialists Hudgell Solicitors, leading to a damages claim being brought against The University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust.
That resulted in the Trust admitting “breach of duty” for failing to gain consent for the procedure, and “breach of duty in performing the lumbar puncture to a reasonable standard”.
The hospital had no record of the problems encountered with the procedure nor the numerous failed attempts.
After undergoing the treatment, Mr Stewart suffered prolonged leg and back pain and says it has had a massive impact on his quality of life.
I’m a bit bitter and twisted about what has happened.
It’s been life-changing. When it happened, my daughter was about two or three months old and my son wasn’t even born. I couldn’t pick her up and I daren’t walk down the stairs with her.
I had to change my career and my lifestyle. I can’t play football or sport any more. It affects my day-to-day life because I have to be careful in what I do. I used to be really active and went to the gym twice a week, but I can’t do that now.
Mr Stewart’s condition was later confirmed not to be meningitis but encephalitis, a rare but serious condition which causes inflammation of the brain.
As part of the case, independent medical experts consulted by Hudgell Solicitors claimed Mr Stewart’s leg pain was consistent with nerve root damage being caused by the lumbar puncture.
The medical opinion was also that on the “balance of probabilities”, the negligent procedures had caused a three-year acceleration of degenerative symptoms in Mr Stewart’s back.
As a result, the settlement covered damages for his pain and suffering, as well three years’ loss of earnings and additional support needed during his recovery.
Mr Stewart, who was a carpenter but took voluntary redundancy in order to manage his ongoing symptoms soon after, said: “As soon as they stuck the needle in, I knew there was something wrong. I have never felt pain like that in my life.
My back was in spasm and the pain was totally paralysing. Every time I tried to move, the muscles contracted even tighter.
I was in and out of consciousness and they didn’t ask for consent, either written or verbal, from me, or my family. They could have explained to my dad, or my wife, but they didn’t and they were just told to leave the room.
After the trainee had a second attempt, you’d think the consultant would have stepped in at that stage. I hope the hospital has learned from this.
Mr Stewart, from Leicestershire, said he had to reassess his career and lifestyle as a result of what happened when having the operation in June 2011.
He returned to work as a carpenter for a short time but struggled and then accepted voluntary redundancy, as he felt he would be able to manage his ongoing symptoms better. He is now a self-employed vinyl applicator.
I couldn’t cope with the demands of carpentry anymore with my back and you only got paid for the work you did, so I wasn’t able to earn much.
That’s why I decided to go self-employed and choose the jobs I was able to do.
I was in massive debt from when I was off sick and I had just bought a house, so I was paying a mortgage on credit cards and I’d accumulated £20,000 of debt. The compensation didn’t make a massive difference to my life because of that, but it has certainly helped me regain some stability in life.
Mr Stewart said he still suffers pain and discomfort, even collapsing when he was on holiday.
I can’t play sport like I used to and I would have liked to have done more with my children when they were little.
If I don’t rest, my body is wiped out. As I’ve had encephalitis twice, I catch everything and my immune system is really low. But I’m looking ahead and being as positive as possible for myself and for my family.
Solicitor Laura Larkin said the settlement recognised the fact Mr Stewart could have continued working as a carpenter for another three years before his back pain became too much, if the lumbar puncture had been carried out to the expected standard.