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July 12th 2021

GP Negligence

Praise for ‘exceptional legal advice’ after patient loses sight soon after repeated GP visits

Elizabeth Maliakal

Elizabeth Maliakal

Associate, Clinical Negligence

Praise for ‘exceptional legal advice’ after patient loses sight soon after repeated GP visits

A man has praised the "exceptional legal advice" provided by Hudgell Solicitors in securing a substantial damages settlement for his wife after she suddenly lost her sight.

A man has praised the “exceptional legal advice” provided by Hudgell Solicitors in securing a substantial damages settlement for his wife after she suddenly lost her sight.

Jane Higgins went to see her GP on three consecutive weeks in 2018, complaining of back and neck pains, headaches which were making it a struggle to turn her head and a stiff jaw.

Her GP attributed the symptoms as being spondylosis (pain from the spine) when in fact she had giant cell arteritis (GCA) – an inflammation of arteries around the temples which can quickly lead to blindness if left untreated.

A couple of weeks later, having started to experience problems with her vision in her right eye, Mrs Higgins, who was 76 at the time, went to her local optician who immediately referred her to the local hospital eye clinic, where the condition was diagnosed and she was treated with steroids.

However, within a matter of weeks, despite treatment, she had permanently lost her sight in both eyes, something which her husband Paul says has “destroyed her ability to fully enjoy her life”.

Following legal action through Hudgell Solicitors, a six-figure damages settlement has been agreed.

As part of the case it was alleged that had Mrs Higgins been urgently referred to a specialist rheumatologist on any of her three visits to see her GP in August 2018, she would have been seen in hospital within 48 hours and had blood tests and a biopsy which would have led to a diagnosis of giant cell arteritis.

This would have seen her placed on medication which would have prevented her suffering the loss of sight.

Legal representatives acting on behalf of the GP agreed to settle the case out of court.

Husband says wife lost sight in a matter of days

Mr Higgins now hopes lessons can be learned, and says he and his wife of 57 years have agreed to share their story to make people more aware of the condition, and to push doctors for further tests if symptoms persist.

“We had no idea at all that the headaches and jaw pain Jane was suffering were possibly linked to a problem which would lead to her losing her sight, but it soon became clear that the doctor should have considered the diagnosis of giant cell arteritis much sooner and he should have sent her for further tests,” he said.

“When Jane went to the optician she immediately said she needed to go to the eye hospital. It was frightening as all of a sudden we went from thinking there was no real issue to being aware something was seriously wrong. In a matter of days she had lost her sight completely.

“It has really destroyed Jane’s ability to fully enjoy her life. We used to have a caravan at the coast and we had many breaks there which we both loved, and we’ve owned a number of horses which we used to race and she loved that, but she doesn’t feel confident going out now.

“She was also a keen gardener and loved her garden, but she can’t get the enjoyment from that now either. We largely just stay at home as she has her bearings here and can feel her way around the house. As soon as she steps out of the house she is lost.

“She has always been a determined, beautiful and talented woman who has always achieved in her life, and even now she wants to retain as much independence as she can, so she does still do odd jobs around the house. I’ll fill the washing machine with powder and then she presses all the buttons to set it going.”

Legal case alleged failure to consider diagnosis and refer for specialist assessment

Solicitor Elizabeth Maliakal, who represented Mrs Higgins, said: “My client’s loss of vision has had a huge impact on every aspect of her life. She went from an independent lady to one who now requires help and assistance with most tasks.

“We alleged that there had been clear failings on the part of the GP in not considering giant cell arteritis (GCA) as a diagnosis despite the classic symptoms of this condition of a continuing headache, neck pains and a stiff jaw.

“This meant Mrs Higgins was not placed on a high dose of steroids and crucially she was not urgently referred for rheumatology review in hospital.

“Within a matter of weeks she had lost her sight, something which with the right course of action would likely have been avoided.

“We are grateful to the GP’s legal team in cooperating with us in this case which meant we could bring the case to a conclusion without court proceedings, with an award of damages which Mrs Higgins was very happy with “

Mr Higgins added: “I can’t praise Elizabeth enough for the exceptional support she had provided to us and for guiding us through the legal process. She put my wife at ease throughout it all and was always in contact and advising us.

“Legal action was never about compensation for us but about accountability and lessons being learned. When I worked in engineering we always addressed any mistakes and made sure we learned for the future.

“I’d hand the money back over tomorrow to have Jane back as she was, but that’s not possible for us. Elizabeth has secured us the best possible result in the circumstances we have been left in.

“She has driven this for us. We can’t thank her or praise her enough for what she has done. She got a great result for us.”

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