Man Paralysed After Routine Operation

A social worker who helped people with spinal injuries has been left paralysed for life after having a routine operation in Birmingham.

52 year old Stephen Onley from Bromsgrove in Worcestershire went in to Birmingham's Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in 2010 for a hip operation but has been left paralysed from the waist down and now requires 24 hour care and is confined to a wheelchair.

He had asked doctors not to use an epidural during his surgery because he was aware of the risks linked to spinal injury through his work with disabled people. However, an epidural was carried out and he suffered complications resulting in a lack of blood to the spine because he wasn’t monitored correctly afterwards.

In a statement to Heart Graham Bragg the active Chief Executive of the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Trust said: ''We are sorry for the complications Mr Onley experienced following his surgery. A number of allegations have been made regarding his treatment. We have admitted liability regarding some aspects of the management of the complications Mr Onley experienced and apologised to him unreservedly in September 2012. We are committed to providing an excellent service and continually recognise the need to learn from our failings to improve the service we provide to all patients.''

Speaking for the first time about the devastating errors which have cost him his independence, Stephen said: "I had spent more than 35 years caring for people with spinal injuries and so I was only too aware that epidurals carry a small, but nevertheless serious, risk of paralysis. I had made up my mind not to have an epidural under any circumstances but was told that it was recommended.

"As a result of the mistakes the hospital made through not monitoring my blood pressure, I will never walk again. My lack of mobility has meant I have now developed painful pressure sores and for the past year I have been virtually bedridden. I am now completely reliant upon my wife who has to care for me round the clock.

"Caroline has been fantastic and I don't know how I would have coped without her, but the fact remains that both our lives have been completely devastated as a result of this avoidable error."

Almost two years on, Stephen is completely reliant upon a wheelchair, has had to give up his job and his devoted wife Caroline has to provide the 24-hour care he now needs.

The couple instructed medical law experts at Irwin Mitchell to help Stephen get access to the support and rehabilitation he desperately needs and are speaking out after the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Trust admitted full responsibility for both the irreversible spinal damage which occurred as a result of failing to correctly monitor him, as well as a perforated bowel which he suffered due to inadequate care after becoming paralysed.

Tim Deeming, a medical law expert at Irwin Mitchell's Birmingham office, who is representing him, said: "Stephen and Caroline have been devastated by what has happened. Apart from suffering hip pain, Stephen was a fit and active individual and believed that within a few weeks he would be recovered and back at work.

"To be told the news that you will spend the rest of your life reliant upon a wheelchair is unimaginable and to discover that this lifelong injury is as a result of a mistake which was entirely avoidable, has been incredibly hard for them both to come to terms with.

"Birmingham's Royal Orthopaedic Hospital has a reputation for clinical excellence which is why it is extremely important, both to protect future patient welfare and to provide public reassurance, that the hospital learns important lessons from what happened to Stephen.