A hospital Trust has agreed a compensation settlement of £230,000 to a 77-year-old patient who lost almost all of his sight after doctors failed to take him off medication known to cause loss of vision as a side effect.
The patient, who had been placed on the medication to tackle a serious lung infection, contacted the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital where he was being treated after his vison become blurred driving home from a holiday with his wife.
However, the man, of Christchurch, Dorset, was told over the phone to continue taking his Ethambutol medication, without speaking directly to a consultant.
When the patient, a former cross-channel ferry boatswain, attended at his GP surgery two weeks later, he was immediately referred to the Acute Eye Unit at Bournemouth Hospital, with the medication stopped.
By that time his sight had almost completely lost, and although some of his vision initially retuned after stopping taking the medication, medical experts consulted as part of a legal claim against Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust say it has effectively left him completely blind.
The retired patient, who still enjoyed going out to sea on his own boat and regularly went fishing before the loss of his sight, says his trust of doctors and the health service has changed due to his treatment and the impact on his life.
I was brought up in an age where you were told never to question the doctors, but my views on that have certainly changed now.
I had no idea that this medication was going to send me blind, who on earth would keep on taking medication if they thought this was going to happen to them?
I can remember when I was driving home from a holiday in North Somerset with my wife and I was struggling to read the road signs as my vision was really blurred. When we got home I gave my wife the car keys, and I have never driven again since.
We called the hospital and were told it was nothing to do with the medication and that it was ok to keep on taking them. I didn’t get to speak to a consultant. When I went to the doctors two weeks later I couldn’t see at all as it had continued to get worse.
The patient said he was not aware of the possible side effects of the drug, although this is something the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust denied, claiming he had been given a ‘standard patient information leaflet’ when his medication started, and also been talked through possible complications.
The Trust did however admit there had been failures in that firstly in that it should have referred the patient to see a specialist when he called raising concerns over deteriorating vision. The Trust admitted that had it done so, he would have been seen within 24-48 hours, rather than waiting two weeks. It also admitted that this delay had caused deterioration of his eyesight.
It agreed to a damages settlement of £230,000 in recognition of the suffering caused, the future impact on the man’s quality of life, and to cover costs for future care and aids and equipment required.
In a written apology, chief executive Angela Pedder said that all future patients taking Ethambutol and experiencing side effects will have direct conversations with consultants as soon as possible. She added that a ‘lower threshold’ was also being introduced to ensure patients had an urgent review to stop taking the medication, should they experience side effects.
Solicitor Nasreen Khan, of medical negligence specialists Hudgell Solicitors, represented the patient in the legal case, and said there had been clear failings which had been life-changing for both her client and his wife.
An independent consultant ophthalmologist consulted as part of the case said that as Ethambutol is a drug with a known risk of vision deterioration if it continues to be taken, it should be stopped as soon as there is any indication of sight being affected.
He rated our client’s vision quality as only 3 out of 10 as a result of this, and had he been stopped from taking the medication when his sight problems were first highlighted, his conclusion was that he would have only suffered minor sight loss in both eyes, and would not have had the day-to-day problems he now suffers.
The patient, who asked not to be named, added: “I now rely on my wife for everything. She has to help me in all aspects of day to day life, from arranging my clothes to helping me get showered.
I used to drive us to Spain on holidays but obviously that had to stop. I also used to sail my boat and regularly go fishing, but I can’t see to rig a fishing line now. It has had a massive impact on our lives.
All I have is a bit of peripheral vision in my right eye. The mistakes of doctors have left me effectively blind. In hindsight, I wish I’d asked more questions at the start, and when my sight became blurred.
I didn’t know the dangers of taking the drug. If I had my time again I would have asked more questions and probably not accepted it. It is too late for me now but hopefully what happened to be will be a warning to others.
The patient’s wife said they’d had excellent support from Hudgell Solicitors throughout the case, which was settled in October 2016, more than three years after her husband lost his sight.
Nasreen Khan has been wonderful.
It has been a difficult time for me and my husband but she has been really caring and supportive at all times. We can’t thank her enough for the support she has given us.