Skip to main content

Contact us to arrange your
FREE initial consultation

Call me back Email us

Written on 4th April 2023 by Julie Marsh

Former swimming teacher, Eileen isn’t easily daunted but at 66 she’s having to adapt to a new way of life. A failure by her GP and district nurses to send her back to hospital when her ankle became infected following surgery led to multiple surgical operations.

Eileen’s compensation from her successful medical negligence claim has helped her buy and adapt a new single storey home. The adapted bungalow will increase her access and independence at home as she learns to live with her constant pain and disability from a permanently dislocated ankle. Meanwhile she faces tough decisions about whether to have further reconstruction surgery or opt for a more permanent solution from below-knee amputation.  

‘I kept trying to give them the benefit of the doubt’

Eileen doesn’t like hospitals but in recent years she has spent more time there than anyone else she knows. The delayed  treatment of her infection led to septic arthritis in her ankle joint, but whilst she struggled with the persistent infection she still hoped that she would soon be back up on her feet. She remembers her shock on the day that she was finally seen at the hospital and was told that she needed emergency surgery.

‘The surgeon was a very nice guy but said to me, “You're not going home. I'm operating today.” You could have knocked me over with a feather. I wanted to go home first to tell [my husband] Dave, because he’d already lost someone, and I didn't want him to hear the news over the phone second hand. I wanted it to come from me face to face. But it was like, “If you go home today you’ll have to have your leg off tomorrow.” That was definitely a wake-up call! He said to me, “Explain to me why you want to go home.” And I did explain to him, and he said, “I do understand, but you can't.”

‘I understood that they were saying to me that there's going to be a major problem if we don't do this now. I thought it would be one wash out. Just one wash out and I'd be going home tomorrow. Oh no. That was Wednesday. Then it was, “We have to wash out on Friday.” Wash out on Saturday. Wash out at a different hospital on Monday. What? And I was thinking, when you've done this one this time, I'm going home today, I’ll have you know!

‘I actually thought for a long time that I would get back on my feet, because that was what I wanted.  For 18 months, I kept trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. You try to believe that this time it will be fixed.’

Over time, however, as Eileen lost more and more income from being unable to return to her work as a swimming teacher, she began to realise the impact that the doctor’s mistake was having on her life. She decided that she needed to take action.  

‘I needed to do something because I couldn't go to work because I constantly had an infection. I couldn't risk even going into the water from a chair. I thought, this is becoming stupid. Once we got to 18 months, I thought I've now lost up to 18 months’ worth of wages all because he couldn't say, “Go back to the hospital,” or wouldn't deal with it or wouldn't look at it. And it was like, no, he's definitely in the wrong. That that was the way I had to look at it. Sometimes you have to look after you. Dave came home one day and I said, “I’ve finally got a solicitor.” So, he was like, oh alright. I said, ”She's in Reading.” And it was like, couldn't you have gone any farther away!’

Settlement after a hard fought claim

Eileen’s case against the GP and the NHS trust which employed the district nurses was handled by Julie Marsh, who has specialist expertise in claims involving infection and amputation. The case was fought on the basis that the doctor and nurses’ negligent failure to refer Eileen back to the hospital delayed treatment of her infection. If she had been referred back to hospital at the right time, her infection would have been eradicated, avoiding permanent damage to her ankle and the need for amputation.

The case was hard-fought and frustrating. The doctor denied that Eileen had even attended the appointment with him and refused to engage in any settlement discussions. The NHS trust had lost Eileen’s medical records but also denied any wrongdoing by the nurses. Despite these denials, the case settled before reaching a trial, with the defendants jointly accepting 75% liability (responsibility) for Eileen’s injury, leading to an eventual settlement of £750,000 (75% of £1million at full value).

Eileen remained remarkably resilient throughout the twists and turns of the case, and additional complications arising from her other health conditions and the covid pandemic.

Restoring independence at home

Eileen struggled on crutches between operations and found that her increasing disability severely restricted her access to most parts of her house.

‘The only lucky thing when I came out of hospital was that we already had a stairlift. Until we got the stairlift I needed to work out at least 3/4 of an hour before I needed the loo. So, I found I was drinking less and less to try not to go to the loo. And then I got on to the MP to find out if I could get a stairlift put in. He was very good and did that very quickly for us.’

The stairlift was helpful but it didn’t reach the upstairs landing, which was split with two additional steps at the top of the stairs. 

‘But it was still hard even with the stairlift. I was on crutches in the beginning. I'd go into the hall. Get on the chair. Then when I got up to the top, I had to get off the chair lift and there's another set of stairs. It was like, oh God is this worth it? I had to have a bathroom chair with wheels, so that I could transfer. On the steps, I could get off the stairlift. I could do that and then I had to shuffle around with Dave's help and sit on the chair that was on the top step. Then he would shuffle me round again to sit in the upstairs bathroom chair, just so that I could get from one room to another. It was a lot of messing about.’

Even downstairs, the layout of the house caused difficulties with access, which severely limited Eileen’s independence.

‘I couldn’t get through the narrow entrance to the kitchen in my wheelchair. I had to fold it up, pull it through and then sit on it again, which was hard work. The kitchen was like a misshaped galley kitchen. There was no room in it. It meant that I could hold on to both units at once  but for me it was a very bad design because if there were two of us in there it was like, I can't get past you. I can’t get to the fridge. You're in my way again, which doesn't always go down very well!

‘I couldn’t access the garden or the conservatory either.  Dave used to put me in there in the summer, but I couldn’t get in or out on my own.’

Eileen also struggled to get in and out of the front door without Dave lifting the chair over the raised frame at the bottom of the door.

‘His mate made us a ramp. That was the only way you could get me in, but it was like going up the north face of the Eiger because it was massively steep. Once or twice I tried to stand on it to come down and it's like, I can't possibly get down that!’

Her lack of independent mobility made covid lockdown even more frustrating.

‘That was rather a nightmare time because for me, being in all the time was like being in prison, more than any worry about the actual virus which we didn’t get. But Dave would go to the supermarket and it was like, you’re not leaving me here. I'm coming. Then you had all your arrows, telling you to go this way round the supermarket, but people would turn back on you, and then rumble on about me (and my wheelchair) being in the way. They could be very inconsiderate. I don't think Dave understood in the beginning when he came home each day to me ranting. I couldn't help it. It was like being in prison because I was in the house 24/7.  He was still working, he couldn't do anything about it. It was hard going because everything was so difficult. And then he would come home and I would be pulling my hair out. He’d be like, it's not that bad. And I would be saying, Yeah, it is! I need to get out of this house. You don't understand.’

The successful claim enabled Eileen to make changes which are beginning to restore her independence and enjoyment of being at home. She received interim payments of £500,000 which helped her buy and adapt a new single storey bungalow. The work on the house is continuing but Eileen now has independent access with her chair throughout the house, including into the wet room bathroom and spacious kitchen. She’s wasted no time in getting on with the housework, as well as pottering about in the garden with the dogs.


‘I don’t need anybody’s help in the wet room and I can manage to do the washing, the ironing and the cleaning. The one thing I can't do is the windows, so I’m going to pay a window cleaner to do inside and out. I do most of my cooking and food preparation sat here at the kitchen table. If I really, really have to, I can put the cooking on the hob but I try not to use the hob because it's a nuisance. If I’m not going to stand for long,  I can do it but it’s not always easy. So I will say to Dave you’ll have to deal with this, which he does.

‘I can’t sit out in the sun owing to the drugs that I have to take all the time. The minute the sun hits me, it burns me.  I've got umpteen big floppy hats now and I put cream on my face but that doesn't stop it. So we’re going to put something up in the garden to protect me from the sun when I’m out there. Nothing fancy. All I want is something with four legs and a roof to keep me out of the sun. But I've been doing what I can in the garden. I’ve already got beans in and wild garlic in and I’ve moved pots for things I tend to grow in pots because there are some things you shouldn't grow in the garden.’


Thinking twice before getting out and about

Getting out and about and socialising is still challenging.  At times Eileen has opted out rather than embarrass other people.

‘We've had a few invitations to places and I've had to say to Dave, we need to go and look, because I don't want to bother them by asking when it makes people uncomfortable. So, we've gone and looked at wherever it was supposed to be and in a lot of cases we've had to say, “We can't make it that night. I'm really sorry.” It’s difficult because people want us to come to things but we can't because there's no access for my chair. People don’t think about it. It's not their fault. They don't have to live with it. We went to a restaurant a couple of months ago and the toilet was down the stairs. I said to Dave, “Do not let me drink much water!”

‘We went for a meal on Saturday night, and the place didn't have a ramp, so I had to be on crutches.  I got up later in the night to go to the bathroom and I'm thinking I can't stand on either leg. So I needed my chair which then had to be unloaded in the middle of the night. I load it up so that I don’t use it at night to make me at least keep going on my legs a little bit. But that didn't work on Saturday night.’

Tough decisions to restore quality of life

The road to recovery is not over for Eileen. She still has tough decisions to make about amputation, but she believes these will help her move on.

‘The possibility of amputation has been there for a while. Different people said it might be better for it to come off. And I thought that I've just gone through 19 or 20 operations, trying not to take the damn thing off, but I am resigned to it. And that’s where we are now. I don't do pain, but it nags me 24/7. It never stops at all. I can't help it. It doesn’t matter how many painkillers I take. It still hurts. I'm due to see the surgeon again soon and I’ll talk to him. I think it's beyond doing any kind of repair, but we'll see what he says. If it needs to go we’ll make a decision there and then, because I just want to get about. I need to get on with my life.’

The medical expert in the claim was brilliant. He was so straight. That’s the only word that I can use to sum him up. He doesn't lie to you. A lot of people go all around the houses and they don't actually tell you anything at all, but he didn’t do that. He was really straightforward. He apologised to me for being straightforward, and I said, “It’s refreshing.” It is when you get somebody like that. 

How has the injury affected Eileen's quality of life?

One of the toughest things for Eileen has been losing her job as a swimming teacher.

‘I loved my job. Even now I still miss my job. I really do.  It’s something I’ve loved since being a small child, really. My mum and dad used to take me swimming with grandparents on Sunday mornings and I would dump my clothes on the hanger with the basket on the bottom and go and hang it up. That hanger would be a certain colour and when they shouted that colour it was my time to get out, but I swim before I could walk and would swim to where they couldn’t get me. They used to stand there and hold my hanger over the balcony and threaten to drop it in. And I’d say, go on then!

‘Then later one of the managers at the pool where I went all the time called me into the office and asked me what I wanted to do when I left school. He knew I was there morning, noon and night training anyway, but I told him I wanted to teach the disabled. And that man really threw me in at the deep end. He couldn't have found anybody more paraplegic than the child he found for me. This child couldn't move. He couldn't do anything. He couldn't understand. His mum wanted him to go swimming and the manager told her he’d got just the person.  He said to me, ”I've got you a child on Saturday. You’re in the small pool. Don't drown him.” I assured him I wouldn’t. And he said, “I’ve got faith in you.” He sat on the balcony watching me with this child. I got him using his legs and all sorts! I had him for about three years and his mother was delighted. I wasn’t supposed to be paid but she used to pay me quietly.  The manager said to me, weeks after that first time, “I thought you’d have thrown the towel in when you saw what I’d got you but you never even looked fazed when the parents brought him in.” And I wasn't.’

Eileen’s remarkable strength of character has kept her seemingly unfazed throughout the claim and her ongoing challenges. 

‘I'm not saying I've not wept at night. I have. But I would never let anybody see me fold. That's not me. I just don't do that. Even though I have lost most of my quality of life.’

Does Eileen have any regrets about making a claim?

‘None. I think for me, I needed some form of responsibility from him [the GP], and even though he didn’t admit responsibility, the fact that they've had to pay says they know. If they had been sure he was right they wouldn't have paid. I couldn't have been any more supported through it. In Julie, I got somebody to work for me that became my friend. That to me was quite a surprise because you don't normally expect to get on with someone you’re dealing with about legalities. You’re not all the same. And I think I can be hard work sometimes for people, but we struck a chord that worked for us. As well as being the solicitor I can say that she is now someone that I class as a friend.’

Julie and Eileen Talking

If you have suffered severe injury or disability as a result of medical negligence, or have been contacted by HSIB, HSSIB, MNSI or NHS Resolution, you can talk to one of our solicitors, free and confidentially, for advice on how to respond or make a claim, by contacting us here.