Would you accept a £1.5MILLION as a payoff for losing your ability to have a healthy sex life?
A mother who was left unable to orgasm after doctors failed to diagnose a serious spinal condition has won a £1.5million payout from the NHS.
Ginny Atchison, 45, of Norwich, has been left with a catheter and permanent nerve damage in her groin as a result of cauda equina syndrome (CES).
The condition causes the nerves in the lower back to suddenly become compressed and can lead to loss of sensation, incontinence and paralysis if not treated immediately.
Ms Atchison, who was forced to give up work because of the pain of the condition, experienced symptoms for 12 months before she was eventually diagnosed and underwent emergency surgery.
The delay in treatment meant Ms Atchison was left with permanent numbness in her groin, leaving her unable to experience sexual pleasure and ruining her sex life.
Ms Atchison said: ‘I was always a very sexual person. I enjoyed being intimate, having sex at least a few times a week when I was in a relationship.
‘I’d being having sex regularly since I was 16. But I didn’t realise how important that was to me until it was gone.’
In 2013 Ginny started taking legal action against Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust, and last month agreed to settle out of court for £1.5million.
Ms Atchison, mother to son Leo, 20, first felt a pain in her lower back in 2008 but thought she had pulled a muscle.
Over the next two years the pain became more severe and she developed an electric shock-type sensation in her legs.
In 2010 she visited A&E at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNUH) and was referred to the pain management clinic for a suspected slipped disc in her back.
When, over the ensuing months, the pain became progressively worse, she returned to her GP – eventually being referred for physiotherapy in December 2010.
Ginny continued: ‘I mentioned to my physiotherapist that I was struggling to pass urine, which is a key symptom of cauda equina syndrome, but she still didn’t pick up on it.
‘I was trying to work full-time as an assistant manager at a cosmetics shop, but the pain was really difficult and I was taking time off.’
The physiotherapist referred her back to orthopaedic triage at the hospital, but Ginny believes cauda equina syndrome should already have been suspected and that she should have been given the urgent MRI scan that would have led to a diagnosis.
She added: ‘I was finally referred for an MRI in February 2011, after I basically begged my GP. I knew there was something wrong, because I was in such terrible pain.’
The scan revealed that a slipped disc was pressing on Ginny’s nerves in her lower back. However Ginny believes this was misreported as she was not sent for surgery.
The turning point in her treatment came in August 2011 when Ginny went to the GP after not passing urine for over 24 hours.
She said: ‘I was sitting watching TV in the lounge and I thought I would go to the bathroom. I realised that I hadn’t needed been in ages and sat on the toilet, but there was absolutely no feeling. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t urinate.
The doctor carried out sensation tests and Ms Atchison couldn’t feel anything.
‘She gave me a note to take to the hospital and I was sent to the orthopeadic ward,’ Ms Atchison said. ‘The note said she couldn’t rule out cauda equina syndrome. It was the first time I’d ever heard of it.’
At NNUH, Ginny was asked to take a seat and wait to be seen, but her bladder and bowels were so full that they emptied themselves in the waiting room.
‘It just emptied in front of all the patients,’ she said. ‘A guy next to me had to go and get a nurse. I was in tears and I was really scared. I am a strong person, but this was really frightening. They put a catheter in and drained a litre of urine, even after I had urinated all over the floor.’
Ginny was then taken for an urgent MRI, which showed nerve damage at the base of her spine, confirming she had cauda equina syndrome, after which she was rushed into surgery.
She recalled: ‘Doctors warned me I might not be able to walk again. I woke up from the surgery and the first thing they said was to wiggle my toes. I could still do that, so that was amazing, as I knew I could still walk, but, unfortunately, there was lots of damage.
‘I still can’t feel the saddle area and it’s just got worse since then. I have tried everything to help it – I’ve looked at the psychology of it, physical treatment, anything I can – but I have come to terms with the fact that my sexual feeling isn’t going to come back.’
She continued: ‘You never think you will stop having sex in your 40s. It was always important to me and, although I am now single, I really miss that intimacy.
‘I was with somebody at the time and we are still really close friends, but I haven’t been able to be intimate since this happened, and I probably never will again. ‘
Ms Atchison, who split from partner of seven years soon after the diagnosis, also uses a catheter full-time and can only walk for short distances.
She said: ‘I struggled a lot, because loss of orgasm is a terrible thing.
‘My relationship with my partner at the time came to an end. We are still best friends, but after the injury we couldn’t be intimate and the romantic part of our relationship was over.’
Despite being referred to a women’s physiotherapist, Ginny said nothing helped.
‘I was told to go to a sex shop and try and buy vibrators to improve things, but no matter what I tried, I couldn’t feel a thing,’ she said.
‘My nerves are damaged and that’s not going to come back. It was such an awful time and I just had to accept that my sexual feeling had gone.’
Unable to exercise and feeling low after her injury, Ginny also piled on the pounds and gained a total of 8st – another crashing blow to her self-esteem.
She said: ‘I felt awful about how I looked, so in February 2016, I saw myself through the process of gastric bypass, which was funded by the NHS.
‘I’m really proud of myself for doing that and I have lost 10 stone. I felt better about myself, but it didn’t make any difference to my nerve damage.’
Ms Atchison has been supported by the Cauda Equina Syndrome Association – an organisation she heard about by chance.
She explained: ‘I applied for disability benefits, but I was deemed fit for work, despite being unable to stand for long periods and using a catheter full time.
‘But I went to a tribunal and the judge ruled in my favour, asking me, at the end, if I had a few minutes, when he said his wife’s friend had the condition and told me about a support group.’
Ms Atchison, who works as an administration assistant for the group, decided to take legal action against the Trust over failure to recognise the symptoms earlier.
After a lengthy legal battle, the mother-of-one was awarded a £1.5million settlement last month
She said: ‘It is a life-changing sum of money. It won’t bring back the way my life used to be, but it will make it easier.
‘I’m going to build an accessible property that will give me more independence, as my son Leo is now at university and I have to look after myself. I won’t be able to work again, so it gives me financial stability for the future.’
Eddie Jones, solicitor for JMW, who represented Ms Atchison, said symptoms of cauda equina syndrome should be treated as a surgical emergency, adding that appalling errors were made in Ms Atchison’s care.
He said: ‘There were missed opportunities to diagnose cauda equina syndrome and refer Ginny for treatment.
‘Cauda equina syndrome is treatable, but the window of opportunity is small and if missed the patient’s life can be completely devastated. The tragedy is that her disabilities would have been avoided if she had received an appropriate level of care.’
A spokesperson from Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals Foundation Trust said: ‘We offer our sincere apologies to Virginia for the distress caused by the standard of care she received.
‘All incidents are investigated to ensure that lessons are learned and help us to identify whether we can improve our systems to avoid a similar situation occurring again. We hope the agreed compensation package will be of benefit to Virginia.’
Dr Venu Harilal, Medical Director at Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust, said: ‘We deeply regret that the standard of care was inadequate and the distress caused to Ms Atchison.
‘Patient safety is our first priority and we have developed and implemented a new protocol with our healthcare partners improving our response to suspected cauda equina syndrome. We have also shared the results of an investigation into the case with staff, to minimise the likelihood of a similar incident happening again.’
culled from Dailymail.co.uk