A father was left in agony for five years after doctors failed to spot that he had broken his neck.
Malcolm Hewer, 66, claims medical staff refused to take his symptoms seriously – and instead urged him to take up tai chi to ease his pain.
The NHS has now apologised to Mr Hewer, a former window cleaner, who suffered the crippling injury when he fell off a ladder in September 2010. The father of two was taken to hospital with crushed neck bones and a broken wrist, but doctors merely plastered up the wrist and sent him home in agony.
In the following months, Hewer, from Bristol, repeatedly complained of pain in his neck and tingling in his right arm and legs, but no one spotted his fractured neck. He said that at one point he was sent to tai chi classes – the non-competitive martial art involves gentle exercise and stretching.
It wasn’t until three years later, in 2013, that doctors finally carried out a scan that revealed multiple crushed neck bones.
Hewer was told he would need to have a metal cage inserted into his neck to reinforce the shattered bones.
But the operation was delayed for another two years because doctors lost crucial scan results and repeatedly delayed his follow-up appointments. It was finally carried out in December 2015 – but Hewer says he is still unable to stand without a stick, has constant pain in his legs and cannot turn his head.
‘My quality of life is not the same,’ he said. ‘I’m in a lot of pain and can’t really use my right hand. I’ve got a wheelchair but I try not to use it.
‘With all the missed opportunities and all the chasing-up of follow-up appointments, scans, operation dates and so on, I felt like a can being kicked down the road. From the day I was told I could go home after the operation on my wrist, no one explained what was going on – even when I was still telling them I’d injured my neck.’
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has upheld Hewer’s complaint of injustice for the way that he was made to wait five years for the neck operation.
But the Ombudsman said the misdiagnosis probably did not cause his current health problems. Instead, they are likely to have been triggered by the degenerative condition neuropathy – which is also likely to have caused his initial fall.
Hewer claims staff have not properly explained the condition to him. He said: ‘The whole thing is crazy.’
Andrea Young, chief executive of North Bristol NHS Trust, said it had written to Hewer to apologise. ‘Our intention is that this case will lead to an improvement in our service,’ she added.