Woman left blind settles claim for damages

The woman was sent home from Edinburgh's Western General Hospital. Picture: Cate Gillon

The woman was sent home from Edinburgh's Western General Hospital. Picture: Cate Gillon

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A YOUNG woman who was left registered blind after a blunder by medical staff at a hospital has settled a damages claim against a health board.

Alexis Allan suffered the loss of vision after a swelling of the optic discs caused by intra cranial pressure following a blockage to a shunt, a flexible plastic tube, which had first been inserted when she was a child.

At one stage she was sent home from Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital with an explanation that she was suffering from a form of anxiety and panic attacks.

Miss Allen raised an action, originally suing Lothian Health Board for £6 million, and a hearing to decide the level of damages to be awarded to her was due to begin yesterday. Her senior counsel, Alan Dewar QC, told Lord Stewart at the Court of Session in Edinburgh: “This is a medical negligence proof in which liability and causation have been admitted. We are concerned with issues of quantum (amount of damages).”

But Mr Dewar later returned to court to have the case, which was set down for four weeks, discharged and said an agreement had been reached by both sides’ legal teams. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

In the action, it was said that Miss Allan, 28, of Edinburgh, had a shunt inserted when she was a baby due to the congenital condition, aqueduct stenosis.

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In 2007, Miss Allan had gone to Tenerife, but became unwell with severe headaches and stomach upsets. She was later admitted to hospital.

“The pursuer (Miss Allan) presented with a clear history of symptoms consistent with a blocked shunt,” it was said in pleadings. “If there is a clinical suspicion of a blocked shunt a patient should be assessed by a doctor who specialises in neurosurgery such as a neurosurgical registrar. It is not sufficient that the neurosurgical registrar provides instructions on the telephone.”

“The neurosurgical specialist registrar should have attended the ward and carried out a clinical assessment of the pursuer with particular reference to her conscious level, assessment of her visual fields and visual acuity and examination of her ocular fundi using an ophthalmoscope,” it was said.

“The neurosurgical specialist registrar should also have examined her shunt and compressed its valve in order to determine if there was a blockage.

“From when the pursuer was first admitted on September 22 in 2007 until October 26 in 2007, when she was admitted for the third time, none of her treating or supervising neurosurgeons carried out such a clinical examination of the pursuer or of her shunt,” it was said.

Miss Allan was said to have told doctors that she felt there was something wrong with the shunt.

On 26 October, 2007, she was said to be extremely unwell and had no vision and her mother took her to an optician who diagnosed papilloedema – a swelling of the optic disc – and she was advised to go back to hospital.

She returned to the Western General where a CT scan confirmed the diagnosis. She was seen by a consultant who told her she would not regain full sight.

The health board admitted liability to make “reasonable reparation” to her for any loss, injury or damage she suffered as a result of the acts and or admissions by medical staff at the Western General in failing to identify and treat her raised intracranial pressure.

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