• Surgeon failed to spell out the risks of paralysis to patient
  • Court case is one of the first following a Supreme Court ruling on informed consent
  • Case follows fears over lapses in patient consent process in the NHS

A woman who was left unable to walk after an operation on her spine has been awarded £4.4m by the High Court after it found the surgeon had failed to ensure she was given informed consent.

Mr Justice Dingemans ruled in favour of Tracy Hassell yesterday. She was operated on at the Mount Vernon Hospital, part of the Hillingdon Hospitals Foundation Trust, in 2011.

The case is one of the first in the country to be brought against the NHS where a patient did not have the full risks of a procedure explained to them. It follows a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court that material risks must be fully explained to patients.

In 2015, HSJ reported on fears among senior figures at the Care Quality Commission and NHS England over lapses in patient consent processes in the NHS, which meant patients were being denied copies of their consent form and the forms vary throughout the country.

Ms Hassell was operated on by spinal orthopaedic surgeon Shaun Ridgeway after an MRI scan identified spondylolisthesis – a condition where a bone in her vertebra has slid over the bone below leading to her spinal cord being squeezed.

She underwent a series of operations between 2009 and 2011 to tackle the pain until in October 2011 she had an operation that left her paralysed on her right side and with weakness on her left side.

The judge said Mr Ridgeway did not properly explain the risks of the surgery and had he done so, it was likely that Ms Hassell would not have agreed to the operation.

He said: “I find that Mr Ridgeway used reasonable care and skill in carrying out the operation, and that I am unable to identify the cause of Ms Hassell’s spinal cord injury. I find that Ms Hassell did not give informed consent to the operation, and that if she had been given information about material risks and conservative treatment Ms Hassell would not have agreed to the operation on 3 October 2011.”

He added: “Whatever Mr Ridgeway’s strengths as a surgeon when carrying out the operation… Mr Ridgeway was not a good communicator about the risks of operations.”

In court, the judge was told Ms Hassell was told the worst case scenario was her spine would have to be fused and there was no discussion about other treatment options such as painkillers or physiotherapy. She claimed Mr Ridgeway told her the operation was routine surgery.

On the day of the operation, Ms Hassell went to the hospital with her husband. Whilst her husband went to get her something from the hospital shop, Mr Ridgeway arrived with the porter and nurse, and Ms Hassell was told that she was going to the operating theatre.

Ms Hassell said she felt nervous and had not said goodbye to her husband. She was given a consent form to sign but she described the events as a rush and she did not pay attention to what it said. She did not recall any discussion about paralysis.

Olive Lewin, from the medical negligence team at Leigh Day that represented Ms Hassell, said she “was not made aware of the substantial risks such an invasive procedure would have on her and the risk of paralysis, which has had such a calamitous effect on her life.

“The [Supreme Court] ruling should ensure that all patients have the full knowledge of the risks associated with a medical procedure and have a dialogue with the consultant so that they can accurately balance those risks and give truly informed consent.”

Ms Hassell said: “I walked into the Mount Vernon on 3 October and came out in a wheelchair. I spent eight months in hospital, which took me away from my family and friends who have supported me throughout this six year battle.

“Integrity is telling myself the truth, and honesty is telling the truth to other people.”

A spokeswoman from the trust said: “The trust acknowledges that Ms Hassell was left with serious injuries following surgery that was carried out at the Mount Vernon Hospital in 2011, which is a matter of real regret. Nonetheless, the trust felt very strongly that the performance of the surgery itself was carried out to a high standard, and that the poor outcome was a recognised risk of the procedure. The judge agreed with this, and made no criticism of the performance of the operation. He did, however, find fault with the consent process prior to the surgery, and awarded damages to Ms Hassell on that basis.”