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A failure to diagnose cauda equina syndrome not uncommon

1st April 2015

A multi-million pound court settlement awarded to a young mother after doctors failed to diagnose cauda equina syndrome is unfortunately not an uncommon case says Moore Blatch solicitors.
“We often advise clients where medical practitioners, both at hospital and in the community have missed the “red flag” markers for cauda equina syndrome.
“For many clients, they will have suffered severe back pain for several years and despite reporting the development of new symptoms to their hospital doctor, GP, physiotherapist or ambulance staff, for some their concerns will not have been taken seriously.
“It is often only on presenting themselves at a hospital accident and emergency department with very significant symptoms, which can include the inability to pass urine for several hours or incontinence, that cauda equina compression is suspected,” comments Moore Blatch clinical negligence expert Maya Sushilia
Treatment for cauda equina compression is spinal decompression surgery; the earlier the spine is decompressed, the faster any damage is stopped from progressing further. 
Maya continues: “Time in these cases is therefore very much of the essence. Failure to quickly diagnose and treat cauda equina compression in its early stages can have catastrophic, life changing, consequences – as was sadly the case for Mrs Tait.”
In 2009, Mrs Tait aged 28 and a mother of two young children, suffered an acute episode of lower back pain whilst staying with her parents-in-law. An ambulance was called and she was taken to Cheltenham General Hospital. At hospital, doctors suspected that she may have suffered a prolapsed disc, which was causing compression of her nerve root and planned for an MRI scan to be carried out; despite this Mrs Tait was discharged from hospital the following day without a scan being taken.
Later that day, Mrs Tait returned to her home in Sutton Coldfield, but overnight her condition deteriorated and the following morning she was admitted to Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield. An MRI scan confirmed a massive prolapsed disc, pressing on her nerve roots and she was diagnosed with cauda equina syndrome. Mrs Tait was referred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham where she underwent emergency spinal decompression surgery in the early hours of the morning.
Subsequently, Cheltenham General Hospital has admitted that had an MRI scan been carried out earlier they would not have discharged Mrs Tait. She would have undergone emergency spinal decompression later that same day. Whilst Mrs Tait would have suffered some mild bladder and bowel symptoms, as well as some loss of sensation around her private parts, this would not have impeded her ability to work as a photographer and to live a relatively normal life.
Unfortunately, Mrs Tait now has cauda equina syndrome; she is doubly incontinent, has suffered a loss of sexual function, and psychiatric damage, as well as leg weakness and pain over and above what she would have suffered had she been operated on sooner.

Mrs Tait was awarded 2.4 million pounds in compensation for her injuries and financial loss. 

Maya concludes: “As Mrs Tait’s case shows, the impact on the individual can be huge. We have been working with charities, medical practitioners and the public to raise awareness of the “red flag” symptoms and improve diagnosis of cauda equina syndrome.” 
Author: Maya Sushila

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