£460,000 compensation following a delay in diagnosis of a spinal infection

05 May 2022

Our client underwent spinal surgery at a private hospital in London to relieve back pain caused by a herniated disc. A week later she developed further back pain and an MRI scan revealed a recurrence of the disc herniation, so a further micro-discetomy was performed.
Compensation following a delay in diagnosis of a spinal infection

Unfortunately, our client’s pain persisted so she returned to the hospital. Tests did not show a further recurrence of the disc herniation but did show signs of a possible infection at the site of the surgery.

The treating private surgeon performed a washout of the operation site and sent tissue biopsies and wound swabs to the private hospital’s laboratory for analysis. The preliminary laboratory report indicated that the swabs showed signs of possible wound infection, but the surgeon only prescribed a short course of oral antibiotics and discharged our client without making any arrangements to review her.

Our client’s back pain intensified so she telephoned the surgeon to explain her concerns. The surgeon did not consider it necessary to see her and simply told her to see the pain consultant who had initially referred her to him because of her back pain.  She consulted the pain consultant and was then referred to a second spinal surgeon who arranged a further MRI scan. The scan indicated infection at the site of the original surgery, so our client was referred back to the original spinal surgeon. She was then admitted to hospital and commenced on intravenous antibiotics and a CT guided biopsy indicated a deep wound infection. 

As a result of the infection our client underwent further spinal surgery to fuse her spine at the site of the original surgery. It was accepted that the initial infection did not occur as a result of negligence.

After obtaining independent expert evidence from a professor of spinal surgery and a consultant microbiologist, the case was pursued against the private surgeon and the private company providing the laboratory services on the basis that:

1. The private surgeon failed to ensure that the tissue samples and wound swabs were thoroughly investigated by the private hospital’s laboratory. He also failed to ensure that the course of oral antibiotics he prescribed was appropriate to effectively treat the infection and to arrange to review our client after she had completed the course of antibiotics. It was also alleged that, but for the alleged breaches of duty, our client’s wound infection would have been successfully treated with appropriate antibiotic therapy and she would have avoided the need for spinal fusion.

2. The private laboratory failed to properly analyse the tissue samples and swabs. Had it done so, the results would have been conveyed to the surgeon so that he could then have taken the necessary steps to treat the infection.

It was also alleged that the spinal fusion put extra strain on the vertebrae immediately above the level of the fusion which resulted in the need for further micro-discectomy procedures at that level.

The surgeon denied all allegations of negligence. The laboratory admitted that it had not properly analysed or reported on the samples and that such analysis may have confirmed the presence of the infective organism later identified by the CT guided biopsy, but made no admission as to the causative effects of its failings.

Court proceedings were issued and the case was listed for a 5 day trial in the High Court. 

The parties held a joint settlement meeting in an attempt to agree a settlement before the trial and although settlement was not agreed at that meeting, a settlement of more than £460,000 was agreed shortly after the meeting.

Alex Haider, senior associate in Shoosmiths Serious Injury Team at the Thames Valley office in Reading, said:

‘The case highlights how a lack of effective communication between clinicians and support services, particularly in private healthcare where (unlike in the NHS) there are often several independent companies providing services, can result in disastrous consequences for patients’.



This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024

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