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General practitioners are most patients' first port of call and mistakes they make can have devastating consequences. In one case, a man who was left paralysed by spinal tuberculosis won the right to substantial damages after a GP negligently failed to refer him for a back X-ray.
The man had been fit and well before waking up one morning with severe pain in his upper back. Over the next four months, he consulted a great many doctors but none of them identified the source of his pain. At one point, he travelled to Gambia – where he was originally from – to consult a spiritual healer as he feared that he had been cursed. However, on his return to England, he had to be carried off the plane in a wheelchair and, although he was rushed to hospital for emergency treatment, it came too late to save him from paraplegia.
In upholding his claim against one of the GPs who had previously examined him, the High Court found that the doctor should have referred him to hospital for an X-ray on his thoracic spine. Had that been done, there would have been a prompt diagnosis and effective treatment of the infection so that he would have made a full recovery. The amount of the man's compensation has yet to be assessed but is likely to be a seven-figure sum, given the extent of his disabilities and his inability to work.