A 41 year old woman has been left incontinent and unable to walk without the aid of crutches after A&E doctors failed to diagnose her with cauda equina syndrome.

Michelle Turner had a long history of sciatica, which causes pain in the lower back and legs due to the irritation of the sciatic nerve.

She awoke on the morning of 2 June 2011 to find the pain in her back had suddenly become severe.

By the evening she could not walk, so attended the A&E department at the Royal Berkshire Hospital.

Unfortunately doctors did not carry out a neurological examination or an MRI scan – a test which would have shown that her cauda equina nerves had become compressed.

The mother-of-four was sent home with pain relief, but three days later returned to hospital after she wet herself. She had no sensation and only noticed it because her jeans were soaking.

Only then was she correctly diagnosed with cauda equina syndrome, a condition in which the cauda equina nerves in the lower back are compressed and injured.

Cauda equina syndrome is a medical emergency that requires immediate surgical decompression.

Sadly the long delay in diagnosing and treating Michelle means she has been left with long-term symptoms, including chronic pain, incontinence and difficulty walking.

“Lessons need to be learned”

She only discovered she had cauda equina syndrome four months after having surgery when it was mentioned in a referral letter from the hospital.

This prompted her to research the condition, at which point she learned that her problems were permanent.

The hospital has admitted liability for failing to diagnose and treat Michelle when she first attended A&E.

In a letter of apology the hospital’s chief executive described the care as “inadequate” and said that had Michelle undergone an earlier MRI scan, she would have had “an excellent post-operative outcome with no neurological deficit.”

Michelle says her injuries have taken most of her “life away” and have changed her as a person.

She said: “I was unlucky to have been treated the way I was, but I think lessons need to be learned so it doesn’t happen again and cauda equina syndrome is recognised as the emergency it is.”

“I put on a brave face for my kids and try to make the best of things, but inside I am really struggling.”

Cauda equina compensation

If your cauda equina syndrome was not diagnosed and treated on an emergency basis, you could be entitled to compensation. Contact us for more information.

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