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Man who is ‘teaching himself to walk again’ takes legal action against hospital and ambulance trust

PUBLISHED: 06:00 02 October 2020 | UPDATED: 14:34 02 October 2020

Alex Nichols and his wife Louise, who both live in Great Yarmouth. Photo: Alex Nichols

Alex Nichols and his wife Louise, who both live in Great Yarmouth. Photo: Alex Nichols

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A man with a rare spinal condition is taking legal action against a Norfolk hospital and the East of England Ambulance Service after symptoms which were not investigated left him “in excruciating pain”.

Alex in hospital - after he was diagnosed with Cauda Equina syndrome, a rare spinal disorder which occurs when nerves at the bottom of the spinal cord become compressed and damaged. Photo: Alex NicholsAlex in hospital - after he was diagnosed with Cauda Equina syndrome, a rare spinal disorder which occurs when nerves at the bottom of the spinal cord become compressed and damaged. Photo: Alex Nichols

Alex Nichols, 32, from Great Yarmouth, is “teaching himself to walk again” following a diagnosis of complete Cauda Equina Syndrome two years ago - which occurs when nerves at the bottom of the spinal cord are damaged.

He said: “On December 14 2018, I literally just bent down to put my socks on when I felt this horrible pain in my back.

“I thought nothing of it at the time and just took some painkillers and went to bed.

“A couple of hours later, though, it got so bad I had to go to A&E. While I was there, it seemed nobody was listening to me. Though I could hardly walk, I was discharged with what they said was a bad muscle spasm, given some diazepam and told to ‘rest up’. Really, I should have had an MRI there and then.

The James Paget Hospital is being investigated by a medical negligence specialist after a man was discharged when showing symptoms of a serious spinal emergency. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe James Paget Hospital is being investigated by a medical negligence specialist after a man was discharged when showing symptoms of a serious spinal emergency. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“By the Sunday night, the pain was excrutiating and my wife had to call 111.

“I was taken to the James Paget Hospital, where they told me I had a prolapsed disc and would be able to move again following surgery.

“But after they transferred me to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, the surgeons took me into a side room and delivered me some devastating news.

“It wasn’t a prolapsed disc. It was complete Cauda Equina and there was every chance I’d never walk again. My spinal cord had been severed.”

Mr Nichols said it was in a side room at the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital where he received his 'devastating diagnosis'. Picture: BRITTANY WOODMANMr Nichols said it was in a side room at the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital where he received his 'devastating diagnosis'. Picture: BRITTANY WOODMAN

For Mr Nichols, the diagnosis left him “in pieces”.

“It crushed me. All this time I’d been thinking I was over-reacting and was told to just rest up,” he said. “And then at the JPH, I was again told it was nothing serious - just a slipped disc.

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“I really believe that if action had been taken earlier, I’d be in a better position than I am today.”

Gurpreet Lalli, a specialist medical negligence lawyer with Irwin Mitchell. Photo: Gurpreet LalliGurpreet Lalli, a specialist medical negligence lawyer with Irwin Mitchell. Photo: Gurpreet Lalli

Mr Nichols, who lives with his wife Louise and two children - aged 11 and 16, said the hardest thing for him is the realisation “he can’t provide for his family” anymore.

He said: “I used to be a painter and decorator - but that’ll never happen again. My life has completely changed. I can’t walk very far without a wheelchair because I have no sensation below my right knee, and all my sexual functions have been destroyed.

“Even just doing the washing or ironing leaves me exhausted.”

October 1 was Cauda Equina Syndrome awareness day, and Mr Nichols says his case against the James Paget Hospital and ambulance service is partly driven by his wish to stop what happened to him happening to anyone else.

Gurpreet Lalli, a medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, is representing Mr Nichols in his case. She said that with Cauda Equina, time is always of the essence.

“We are investigating the care that Alex received from the East of England Ambulance Service and the JPH as there are concerns further investigations should have been carried out when he first showed symptoms.

“It is well recognised by medical professionals that cauda equina syndrome is a spinal emergency - and time is of the essence. The sooner the patient undergoes surgery - the better the outcome for them is.”

In response, an East of England Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “We can confirm we are aware of the claim. As an investigation is ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

A JPH spokesman also said it would be inappropriate to comment further but added they are “aware of the claim” and that “information is being gathered to determine the facts of the case”.

Cauda Equina Syndrome ‘Red flags’ include lower back pain, sciatica and leg weakness as well as bladder, bowel and sexual dysfunction.

Anyone with symptoms should seek medical attention, particularly if pain is accompanied by tingling or numbness around the bottom and started after an accident.

MORE: Inspectors uncover sexual abuse and bullying at ambulance trust


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