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Cauda Equina Syndrome costs the NHS hundreds of millions a year

By Suzanne Munroe

Published In: Clinical Negligence - Hospital and Surgery

Cauda Equina Syndrome is a rare and severe type of spinal stenosis where all of the nerves in the lower back suddenly become severely compressed. It can be brought on by the simplest of movements.

Red flag signs include nerve pain down both legs as well as pins and needles or numbness around the bottom or inner thighs.

The Royal College of GPs says the condition is rare but every doctor should be on alert for it because of how serious it can be.

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs compared the condition to in terms of detection and swift management.  She states:

The vast majority of acute back pain and back problems will not be serious and can be safely managed through careful exercises or over-the-counter painkillers, but if a patient experiences any of the red-flag symptoms for Cauda Equina syndrome, they should seek medical attention as soon as they can .”

It is important to catch this condition in a matter of hours as urgent medical treatment to remove the pressure is critical. Nisaharan Srikandarajah, a Trainee Neurosurgeon with a PhD in states:

CES requires a clinical and radiological diagnosis, so it is critical that patients get an MRI scan, which is the only way to confirm the condition. Sadly there is a shortage of MRI radiographers working out of hours which causes great delays in getting the critical diagnosis ”.

If the condition goes undetected for 24 hours the damage to the Cauda Equina is such that the outcomes for patients is significantly worse.

It is not known how many people have the condition as not all hospitals log case numbers. The BBC reported  that the figures available for the NHS in 2010-2011 show 981 surgical decompressions for in England alone. The NHS projected the cost of Cauda Equina claims for the period 2014 to 2016 to be £68m with two thirds of this for delay or failure of diagnosis or treatment. These figures do not include claims against GPs so the true cost is much higher, likely to be in the region of £150m to £200m a year.

Individual compensation payments can reach £4m, excluding legal fees.

At Switalskis our skilled medical negligence team are experienced in a variety of claims, including Cauda Equina. We will ensure that you get just compensation so that you can obtain the best care available and give you guidance throughout the whole process. As this is a stressful and upsetting time in anyone’s life, our friendly and understanding solicitors will help you in any way possible.

If you have experienced a failure to diagnose and treat Cauda Equina or any other problems, speak to a member of our team. Please call us on 0800 138 0458 or send us a message by email

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Suzanne qualified as a solicitor in 1990. She's a Director, Solicitor and Head of our Medical Negligence team.

Director and Solicitor

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