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Written on 24th January 2023 by Sita Soni

Boyes Turner’s medical negligence team have secured an admission from a hospital that negligent spinal surgery caused our client to suffer from cauda equina syndrome (CES)

Our client was in her sixties and had an eight-year history of back pain when she was referred to a consultant orthopaedic spinal surgeon at the hospital to consider whether surgery could improve her condition.  After seeing her, he arranged for her to have an up-to-date MRI scan. The MRI scan confirmed that she had degenerative scoliosis (sideways curving of the spine), a minor spondylolisthesis (slipping of one vertebra onto the vertebra below it) at the L4/5 level, and narrowing of the spine at L5/S1 (lower back level) which was pinching the L5 nerve root. This was causing her back pain, numbness in her legs and pain in one of her thighs. The surgeon saw her again and suggested surgery to fuse the vertebrae at two levels to try to correct the curvature and  the problem with the slipping vertebra. He warned her that this was major surgery.

The surgeon discussed the planned surgery with professional colleagues in a spinal multi-disciplinary team (MDT) meeting. They agreed that the proposed operation was possible in the hope that it would improve her pain. After bone density scans revealed bone weakness and standing x-rays confirmed degenerative scoliosis with rotation of the vertebrae in her lower back, a further spinal MDT meeting recommended that the fusion operation be carried out at three levels. This involved placing a cage packed with bone graft at each level to try to fuse those parts of the spine. As the three level operation would now involve operating from the front of the patient to reach the additional lower level, a vascular surgeon would also need to be present during the surgery. The proposed three-level surgery and its risks and benefits were explained to our client, who gave consent for the operation.

Last minute change of plan and mistakes during surgery

On the day of the operation, on the way to the operating theatre, the consultant spinal surgeon told her that no vascular surgeon was available, so he would only be able to carry out the two-level surgery. She felt she had no choice but to agree. Two surgeons carried out the operation, during which the implant cages were inserted into our client’s spine. On reviewing the position of the cage at lumbar level L3/4, they noted that it was placed slightly too far back, but left it in place and finished the operation.

After the operation our client was found to have signs of cauda equina syndrome. An MRI scan confirmed that the L3/4 implant was protruding into the spinal canal causing almost complete restriction and compression of the cauda equina nerves. Our client underwent urgent decompression surgery the same day, but was left with significant permanent disability, including loss of power in her lower legs, foot drops, bowel and bladder incontinence.

Making a claim – hospital admits surgery was negligent

We helped our client make a claim for compensation from the hospital, which admitted that the two surgeons’ negligent failure to correct the position of the implant during the surgery caused our client to suffer cauda equina syndrome. Our client’s urgent needs will be met with an interim (advance) payment whilst the claim continues towards final settlement.

If you have suffered serious injury or disability as a result of medical negligence and want to find out more about making a claim, you can talk, free and confidentially, to a solicitor by contacting us here.