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£925,000 for mother of two left with lifelong condition following NHS delays

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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A mother-of-two from Billington, Lancashire has been awarded nearly £1 million in compensation after delays in treatment by the NHS left her with a life-changing condition.  Claire Thornber will forever suffer a debilitating pain in her legs after medics at the Royal Blackburn Hospital failed to treat her condition as urgent. 

Prolapsed disc pressing on crucial nerves at the base of the spin


In August 2010, Claire Thornber began to experience serious and severe back pain, which she described as radiating in fluxes down her legs. She visited her GP, who referred her for an MRI scan. The scan took place in September of the same year at a mobile unit operated by BMI Gisburne Park. The service was contracted by the NHS under the teaching primary care trust, but has since been abolished. 

The scan results showed a prolapsed disc that was pressing on the cauda equina nerves at the base of the 42-year-old’s spine. Cauda equina – Latin for horse’s tail – is the name given to the bundle of spinal nerves and spinal nerve roots, which originate in the conus medullaris. The nerves supply the pelvic organs and lower limbs, and are crucial to the motor innervation of the hips, knees, ankles and feet. Their importance extends to sensory innervation of the perineum and any damaged nerves can also affect bladder control. 

A relatively rare, but serious, condition that can result from pressure and swelling on such nerves is cauda equine syndrome. Symptoms of the syndrome include altered sensation, weakness or numbness in the lower limbs or feet, a loss of sensation or a strange sensation in the “saddle” area of the body – including the inner thighs, the back of legs or buttocks. A sharp stabbing pain in the leg, or consistent lower back pain, best described as a severe aching pain in a localized area of the back, are also common indicators. The onset can either be gradual or sudden, yet if left untreated, the sufferer could experience permanent paralysis, impaired bladder or bowel control, difficulty walking and other neurological and physical problems 

In spite of the symptoms reported by Ms Thornber and the results of the MRI, the radiographer did not flag her condition as an emergency, nor did the radiologist at the Royal Blackburn Hospital when they received the scan report. 

Prompt treatment would have resulted in a near full recovery

With her agony continuing, three days later Ms Thornber returned to her GP who then suspected cauda equine syndrome. He contacted an orthopaedic surgeon at the Royal Blackburn Hospital. Ms Thornber was sent to the Royal Preston Hospital for surgery the next day, but tragically, it was too late. 

Had she have been treated promptly upon the results of the scan, it is likely that she would have made a near full recovery. However, the mother-of-two is now left with constant pain in her legs, which makes walking difficult, is doubly incontinent and has suffered a complete loss of sexual function.  She has had to give up her successful cleaning business and the stress and strain of her situation caused her marriage to breakdown.

After receiving £925,000 in compensation for the failures she experienced while under NHS care, Ms Thornber stated:

“Running the business was just not an option any more due to the pain and my disability, and all sense of a normal life quickly vanished.

Even socialising was made impossible. No amount of compensation will ever make up for that but I am relieved that I’ll now have some help to cope and try to make the best of things.

The money is for the future, for my children and to highlight cauda equina syndrome.”

Ms Thornber has set up an international organisation called the Cauda Equina Syndrome Association in order to raise awareness of the condition and try and prevent others from suffering in the way she has herself. She is hoping to ensure that medical professionals are more alert to the signs and will take urgent action, as a timely intervention really can be life-changing. 

The NHS Litigation Authority said: “We are able to confirm that the NHS Litigation Authority has settled a claim on behalf of the Secretary of State for Health in relation to an Independent Treatment Centre that provided services for the former East Lancashire Teaching Primary Care Trust.

We recognise that this will have been a difficult time for the claimant and hope that the settlement will help provide her with an improved quality of life.”

Compensation for victims of misdiagnosis 

You are entitled to expect a certain standard of treatment from those providing medical assistance to you. If this treatment falls below standard you may be entitled to recover the cost of the private medical treatment needed to correct the failings on the part of those originally treating you. Our goal at IBB Claims is to obtain justice for victims of the negligence by others, by securing compensation that reflects their pain and suffering, as well as related financial losses including loss of earnings, treatment costs and specialist care costs.

If you believe that you have suffered harm as a result of a delayed or misdiagnosis, or from negligence resulting from the actions of your GP, consultant, surgeon, nurse, dentist or other health care provider contact our medical negligence solicitors today. We offer a No-Win No-Fee Agreement so there is no financial risk involved if you are not successful. To discuss your case or to make an appointment please contact us on 0333 123 9099. Alternatively, please email us at

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