A woman who suffered permanent hearing loss and vestibular failure in her right ear, affecting her balance, following a procedure carried out by a surgeon with ‘rusty’ skills has demanded that lessons are learned after lawyers helped her secure a settlement regarding her ‘nightmare’.
Hannah Buxton, 36, from Kirby Hill near Boroughbridge, had suffered with a blocked right ear for around five months when she was diagnosed with an infection and referred for a grommet to be inserted at Harrogate Hospital in January 2016.
Several months later, after continuing to suffer with issues related to her ear, a further procedure confirmed that the grommet had been inserted incorrectly and this had caused the issues. It was also revealed that her infection had been misdiagnosed, as she in fact had a non-cancerous growth known as a cholesteatoma.
A subsequent report by the Harrogate & District NHS Foundation Trust outlined a range of issues with the medical treatment Hannah received, including how the surgeon who performed the initial procedure had admitted that her grommet insertion skills were ‘rusty’.
The findings led Hannah to call on medical negligence lawyers at Irwin Mitchell for help and the legal experts have now secured her a settlement from Harrogate & District NHS Foundation Trust regarding the issues she faced. The settlement will enable Hannah to fund rehabilitation for her ongoing vestibular symptoms and to purchase specialised hearing aids to improve the quality of her life.
Ross McWilliams, the specialist lawyer at Irwin Mitchell’s Leeds office who represents Hannah, said:
Hannah’s experience is an incredibly worrying one.
For an experienced ENT surgeon this should be relatively straight forward procedure yet Hannah was operated on by someone who admitted themselves that they were without the necessary recent experience and she now has to face a lifetime with permanent right sided hearing loss and vestibular failure which includes horrible symptoms such as vertigo, imbalance and dizziness. This simply should never have happened.
Investigations into this case have revealed that the Trust failed to obtain adequate references regarding the surgeon’s clinical skills and that they were also allowed to operate unsupervised.
Assumptions were made about the surgeon’s clinical skills based on their CV, experience and qualifications. Perhaps most worryingly, they had even asked not to do such procedures because they did not feel competent yet those requests were seemingly ignored.
While we are delighted to have secured Hannah a settlement to help her in future she would rather not be in this position and it’s absolutely vital that lessons are learned from this case and the many issues raised are simply never repeated again in the future.
Following the surgery in January 2016, Hannah had absolutely no hearing in her right ear and felt very dizzy and nauseous. She was told this was normal due to swelling and was discharged home the same day.
The next day Hannah was very poorly and her son had to call an ambulance as he thought she was having a stroke. Hannah was taken to A&E and treated for potential meningitis or mastoiditis.
At this point she was just about capable of using a walking frame to get to the bathroom but was not able to walk any further than a few metres even with support.
Discussing what she has been through, Hannah said:
I had struggled for so many months with my ear so having the procedure was meant to help me. I was completely devastated when it only served to make things worse.
Several months later, a further procedure confirmed that the grommet had been inserted incorrectly and this had caused the complete and permanent right sided hearing loss and right sided vestibular failure.
The procedure also found that the original diagnosis of an ear infection had been incorrect as Hannah was found to have a cholesteatoma. This is an abnormal skin growth that had developed behind her eardrum which had been causing the blocked ear symptoms in the first place.
During the investigation the surgeon explained that they had been familiar with this procedure as a trainee between 1991 and 1994 but not since then.
One of the root causes of this incident was identified as being a grommet insertion undertaken by a doctor with little recent experience in this technique coupled with a lack of clinical supervision and assessment.
Grommet insertion procedures, where tiny tubes are surgically inserted into the eardrum to treat conditions such as recurrent middle ear infections and glue ear, were also added to the surgeon’s operating list regularly despite, according to the surgeon, they had requested for them not to be at the outset of their employment with the Trust.
Losing my hearing in the ear was a nightmare and then to discover that it was caused by the treatment was very hard to take. The revelations about the surgeon who did the procedure are totally shocking. To know my care was in the hands of someone who admitted to having ‘rusty’ skills is just horrible.
You put all of your faith in the medical profession, but these problems have destroyed that trust for me. Nothing will change what I have been through and it is absolutely vital that these mistakes are never repeated. The NHS must learn lessons from it.
Dr David Scullion, Medical Director at Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust, said:
We have apologised to Ms Buxton for her care, which fell below the standards we expect.
I would like to reiterate that apology now.
As soon as we were aware of the issue at the time of treatment we provided support to Ms Buxton.
We take all patient safety incidents very seriously and we carried out a serious incident review, involving Ms Buxton in this process.
This review resulted in changes to clinical practice.
The Trust is committed to putting measures in place to improve patient safety and experience.