Clinical negligence cases are about ensuring that victims are justly compensated – but they can also benefit the medical profession by exposing poor practice. That was certainly so in one case concerning a college lecturer who went into hospital for back surgery and emerged stricken by incomplete paraplegia.
The woman had a history of severe back problems and underwent surgery to relieve pressure on her spinal cord. The operation went smoothly and was apparently successful. However, over the following two days, she lost sensation in her toes and ankles and the ability to walk or bear her own body weight. A further operation failed to relieve her symptoms and she was left permanently disabled.
In upholding her claim against the consultant neurosurgeon who was in charge of her treatment, the High Court found that she had been inappropriately prescribed a blood-thinning drug too soon after the operation. The drug was meant to guard against the risk of deep vein thrombosis, but instead led to a blood clot forming in her spine, with catastrophic consequences.
The Court noted that evidence in the case had revealed the surgeon's negligent practice of prescribing anti-coagulant medication to all his cranial and lumbar patients within six hours of surgery. That routine course was both cavalier and outside the range of normal practice at the relevant time. The amount of the woman's compensation has yet to be assessed, but the surgeon's medical insurers agreed to make a £250,000 interim payment.