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Overburdened NHS Sometimes Fails To Diagnose Minor Head Injuries

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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This week is Road Safety Week and IBB Claims is proud to be a supporter of this event, which aims to inspire communities to take action on road safety and promote life-saving messages throughout the country.

Road traffic accidents account for 50% of all traumatic brain injuries.  This includes cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians hit by vehicles[1].

Even minor head injuries can have a dramatic effect on a person’s quality of life.  Unfortunately, some patients who present at their GP or A&E with what may seem at first to be an inconsequential bump on the head, are sent home without receiving a CT scan which may reveal moderate, or even severe damage to the brain[2].

A small bump or injury may not be investigated

A minor bump to the head, in an adult or a child, is usually nothing to worry about. 

However the signs of a minor or serious head injury could include any of the following symptoms, and you should seek medical attention urgently[3]:

  • unconsciousness, either briefly or for a longer period of time
  • difficulty staying awake or still being sleepy several hours after the injury
  • clear fluid leaking from the nose or ears (this could be cerebrospinal fluid, which normally surrounds the brain)
  • bleeding from one or both ears
  • bruising behind one or both ears
  • any sign of skull damage or a penetrating head injury
  • difficulty speaking, such as slurred speech
  • difficulty understanding what people say
  • reading or writing problems
  • balance problems or difficulty walking
  • loss of power or sensation in part of the body, such as weakness or loss of feeling in an arm or leg
  • general weakness
  • vision problems, such as significantly blurred or double vision
  • having a seizure or fit (when your body suddenly moves uncontrollably)
  • memory loss (amnesia), such as not being able to remember what happened before or after the injury
  • a persistent headache
  • vomiting since the injury
  • irritability or unusual behaviour

If the head injury was caused by a traumatic incident, such as a motor vehicle accident, it is imperative to see your GP or go to your local A&E department[4].

What is so frightening about head injuries is that it is common for people to initially appear fine immediately following a blow to the head, then suddenly deteriorate rapidly.

Such injuries may include epidural haemorrhage. Blood gets trapped between the skull and the hard layer of skin between the bone and brain, known as the dura mater. As the blood flows from the ruptured artery, the fluid builds and punctures the dura.

Often patients are oblivious to their fractured skull. In these cases, the fracture generally occurs just above the ear, in the temporal bone.  A small bump is enough to cause the condition, which is commonly referred to as "talk and die" syndrome among neuroscience physicians and surgeons, because the patient can decline so rapidly[5].

If someone dies, assume everyone involved is seriously injured

In the event of a road traffic accident involving a group of people, trauma teams are trained to assume that if someone involved in the accident dies then everyone else has serious injuries--even if they look good, and say they feel totally fine[6].

However, stretched NHS resources has resulted in serious head injuries being missed by GPs and doctors in A&E departments.  Last month, a Hertfordshire man was awarded £675,000 after his GP surgery and an A&E department misdiagnosed a bleed on the brain as an ear infection and concussion[7].

A recent inquest also ruled that an 84-year-old women died in February 2016 because a radiologist at Great Western Hospital in Swindon failed to spot a brain injury, after she fell and hit her head whilst a patient at the hospital[8].

Brain injuries resulting from road traffic accidents can be missed by medical staff if the patient suffers from an existing condition.  For example, in 2014, a 64-year-old Alzheimer’s sufferer was knocked down by a lorry in London.  A CT scan showed 'severe traumatic brain injury' but instead of receiving urgent treatment in a neurological ward, which was recommended at the time, he was later transferred to an assessment ward for dementia patients where his condition deteriorated rapidly.

His family believe he was 'written off' as a dementia patient, which meant he wasn't given the rehabilitation treatment he needed to recover from his brain injuries.  They subsequently sued for compensation and won a substantial settlement[9].

Failure to diagnose a serious head or brain injury

If medical staff fail to diagnose a brain injury due to negligence, and this results in pain, suffering and a diminished quality of life, you may be eligible for compensation.

Road Safety week is about safety and awareness both on and off our roads.  If you have been involved in a road accident of any kind and receive a bump on the head, it is best to seek medical attention, even if you feel fine.

The brain is the most complex and delicate organ we have.  When it comes to caring for it following a blow to the head, it is definitely better to be safe than sorry; don’t take any chances.

Please join us in supporting Road Safety Week.  You can find out more at

Obtaining compensation for the misdiagnosis of a head or brain injury

At IBB, our personal injury solicitors, led by Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to make a compensation claim following a road accident and/or a missed or misdiagnosed brain injury. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.





[4] Ibid


[6] Ibid




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