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clair hemming

Posted 25 April 2016
by Clair Hemming

Cauda equina syndrome

The cauda equina is a bundle of nerves at the base of the spinal column which supplies movement and sensation to the pelvic organs and lower limbs.  It is latin for “horse’s tail” given its resemblance in appearance.  These nerves are highly sensitive and if they become trapped or compressed even for a relatively short period of time it can lead to permanent damage and have devastating consequences.

Cauda equina syndrome is a neurological condition whereby a person suffers symptoms such as loss of sensation in the “saddle” area or lower limbs, bladder or bowel function disturbance and/or severe pain, caused by compression of the nerves.  If the condition is not investigated and the compression relieved it can lead to irreversible damage, and life long symptoms which include incontinence, loss of sexual function, pain and loss of mobility.

Cauda equina is a medical emergency and often requires urgent surgical intervention. As such and given that the damage can be so devastating it is often the subject of medical negligence litigation.  However it is a complex claim both medically and legally and it is important to select an experienced legal team, who have access to the right experts.

We recently settled a claim on behalf of a lady who had developed cauda equina syndrome as a consequence of a prolapsed disc in her late 30’s.  The lady was admitted to her local hospital where the prolapsed disc was diagnosed by x ray.   The doctors suspected that the lady was suffering from cauda equina syndrome but this could not be confirmed without an MRI scan.  Unfortunately as is not uncommon, there were no MRI facilities at the District Hospital as it was a Sunday.  It was a Monday to Friday only service.   Having taken advice from spinal surgeons at their tertiary referral hospital, rather than transferring the lady there immediately for scanning, the decision was taken to wait until the morning when MRI facilities would again be available.    As a consequence there was a delay in 24 hours in operating.

The hospital admitted it should have transferred the lady immediately but sought to argue that earlier possible surgery would not have affected the outcome.  After a long battle with Trust solicitors an out of court settlement was reached for a six figure sum.



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About the author

clair hemming

Clair Hemming

Partner and Solicitor

Partner and solicitor in the medical negligence department and a member of the Devon & Exeter Medico Legal Society and the Law Society Clinical Negligence Panel