Patient left with broken neck for two months

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A ROAD crash victim with a broken neck was twice sent home from hospital after wrongly being diagnosed with whiplash, it was revealed yesterday.

The student was in so much pain he fainted, but the junior doctor treating him failed to order an X-ray that would have shown the fracture. It was only eight weeks later that the problem was finally discovered, and the victim needed surgery.

Yesterday, the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman upheld a complaint over the student's inadequate care, and ordered the health board involved to apologise.

The victim, who has not been named, was a passenger in a car when it swerved off the road while travelling at high speed and rolled down an embankment before coming to rest in a ditch in June last year.

He managed to walk home and, after being interviewed by police, went to the A&E department at Stirling Royal Infirmary with his mother, suffering "excruciating" pain in his neck.

He was examined by a junior doctor who diagnosed whiplash and sent the patient home with painkillers and an exercise leaflet for those suffering from neck strain.

At no point was an X-ray suggested and the student said he assumed the doctor believed he had not suffered a serious injury. He claimed that the whole examination took less than three minutes.

Later the same day, when his mother was putting painkilling gel on his neck, he suffered intense pain and fainted, falling to the ground unconscious.

An ambulance was called and he was advised to return to hospital, where he was sent to a waiting room. After 30 minutes, he could not cope with the pain and his mother found a nurse who gave him two paracetamol.

After another 30 minutes, the student's father spoke to a nurse to complain at the length of time he had been waiting. The student then saw the same doctor as earlier in the day, who again said he had whiplash.

The fracture was diagnosed only two months later after an osteopath wrote to his GP saying he should have an X-ray.

He later had an operation during which metal pins and bolts were inserted into his neck, along with bone grafted from his hip. He was told to refrain from contact sport for a year, which the report said was "depressing" for him because he was studying sports science at university.

Alice Brown, the ombudsman, concluded that, given the patient's symptoms, an X-ray should have been ordered by the junior doctor.

"The doctor failed to establish that the patient had sustained a serious injury and as a result he suffered pain for the following weeks and it was fortunate that the injury was stable," she said.

She said the health board should apologise and use the case as an example to help in the training of young doctors.

A spokeswoman for NHS Forth Valley said: "We have accepted the recommendations and will act accordingly."