A 69-year old woman who has lost almost all sight in her left eye has been awarded £375,000 damages after opticians and hospital specialists failed to correctly diagnose and treat the cause of ‘black spots’ and blurred vision.
Had relevant scans been taken within weeks of her first seeking medical assistance the woman would have had 80% better vision in the eye than she has been left with, independent experts said.
Now, having won the six-figure out-of-court joint damages settlement from Stockport NHS Foundation Trust and Specsavers, the woman is urging other people of a similar age to demand thorough tests and scans should they experience similar problems.
She believes specialists assumed her problems were due to natural sight deterioration because of her age, causing them to not act urgently, misdiagnose, and treat her for the wrong conditions, missing the serious issue causing her to lose her sight.
The woman, who was represented in her damages claim by medical negligence specialists Hudgell Solicitors, says the loss of sight in her left eye has had a huge impact on her life, leading to her taking the decision with her husband to close their long-run family business earlier than planned.
She says she has been left ‘scared’ because her lack of vision causes her to misjudge distances, leading to many falls and bumps. She now avoids cooking at home because she is afraid of burning herself.
“It has been really difficult to adapt to only really having effective vision in one eye and that has had a big impact on life,” said the woman, who had no previous major eyesight issues when she started to suffer the blurred vision, aged 64.
“I now think something is to the side rather than in front of me, and that has caused me many bumps and falls as I can’t judge distances or where things are. I am scared when I go out and I won’t cross a road unless there is a pedestrian crossing to use. It impacts on your confidence.”
Woman should have been referred to specialists urgently
The woman first went to her opticians, Specsavers in Merseyway, Stockport, Greater Manchester, on December 31, 2013, complaining of blurred vision. She was discharged as the optician could find no cause.
She returned two weeks later as she was suffering from ‘floaters’ in her left eye but was told it was probably related to her age and a non-urgent referral to see hospital specialists was made.
However, another two weeks later the woman contacted the opticians again as she had lost vision in her eye, which by this time had become red and sore. She was then told to go straight to Stepping Hill Hospital, where she was incorrectly diagnosed with ‘lazy eye’.
This meant her condition was not treated aggressively and despite her symptoms persisting over the next five months, a scan on her eye was not performed until almost a year after she had made her initial complaint.
It was then discovered that she had macular oedema, a condition which can cause permanent loss of vision of left untreated for a long period.
Independent expert ophthalmologists, consulted as part of the legal case, said Specsavers should have referred the woman to specialists on December 31, and again as an urgent referral when she attended again two weeks later.
They said there was ‘no supporting documentation’ for the hospital ophthalmologist to have diagnosed her with ‘lazy eye’, and that had scans been taken in March 2014 – rather than nine months later in December – she could have started steroid injections which would have prevented her eyesight deteriorating as it has for another 10-15 years.
Solicitor says lack of thorough testing leading to misdiagnosis is ‘all too common’
“It is very frustrating to know it could and should have been spotted early and prevented with the right checks and treatment,” the woman said.
“I know it was because of my age that they just dismissed it as being wear and tear, even though I have always had good eyesight and only needed glasses for short distances.
“Even when I complained to Specsavers about what had happened and urged them to train their staff not to make assumptions, they still defended their approach and said it was an understandable diagnosis by their optician.
“The hospital specialist told me I had a lazy eye, and I said I didn’t, and that I’d never had that. He said ‘one eye is worse than the other’ and that was it, he had made his mind up. I always felt something wasn’t right.
“We ran our own business but I wasn’t able to do my job as before and my husband had to take over my role as well as doing his own. Now we have got this settlement we have decided not to carry on another five years as we had planned and retire a bit earlier.
“We are semi-retired now and are looking for a home nearer our children. We have been through a lot in these last few years.”
Solicitor Sarah Scully, of Hudgell Solicitors, said the case was similar to many seen by the firm’s medical negligence lawyers, with serious conditions missed by a failure to carry out relevant assessments and checks.
The case had been due to be heard in front of a civil court judge in March, but Stockport NHS Foundation Trust and Specsavers offered an out-of-court settlement which was accepted by the woman.
The Trust contributed £337,500 to that settlement, admitting its delays in treatment caused 80% of the woman’s vision loss. Specsavers admitted failing to refer her to specialists on a more urgent basis in January 2014. Ms Scully, said;
“Sadly we see situations like this all too often, where medical professionals and specialists make assumptions without carrying out the scans and tests which provide clear diagnosis. In this lady’s case a clear diagnosis could and should have been made some nine to 12 months before it was.
“In that time the condition worsened to a stage where her eyesight in her left eye could not be saved. It has obviously had a huge impact on her life, but also on her husband who has now taken on many of the things she did at work and at home.
“Our client has never been one to complain about her day to day living from the start of her case, but it was all too evident she was struggling along as we commissioned further expert evidence, and the reality was that she was suffering in silence.
“We are delighted to have secured significant damages for her which reflects the major impact this has had on her life. It is no more than she deserves to be able to make a fresh start with her family with their support around her for the coming years. She has expressed her own frustration at assumptions being made with regards to her age and her eyesight, and we would second that.
“It does appear in this case that a number of assumptions have been made. These have proved extremely costly, and whilst there is nothing that can be done to restore our client’s vision, we hope lessons are learned to prevent others suffering the same fate and we would urge others who may have experienced similar treatment to come forward.”
The woman praised Mrs Scully for her help and support throughout the case and beyond.
She said: “Sarah was fantastic. She was there for us every step of the way and has done so much more than her job. She has even been helping us beyond the legal settlement by recommending legal people who can help on our house move. She has been more like a friend than a lawyer.”