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Glaucoma patient who went blind receives £3.2m compensation

University Hospital Southampton admitted that complete sight loss would have been prevented had the patient received treatment earlier

11 Nov 2019 by Andrew McClean

A patient who went blind as a result of delayed appointments for glaucoma treatment has received £3.2m in compensation from the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.

The 35-year-old woman, who gave birth to her third child in 2017 after being diagnosed with glaucoma, pursued a claim against the trust after it failed to initiate a follow-up programme.

The trust admitted that if the patient had received surgery before the end of 2016, complete sight loss would have been prevented.

Medical negligence specialist and partner at law firm Moore Blatch, Vicky Hydon, who acted on the patient’s behalf, said: “The impact on our client has been devastating. It's a complete tragedy and there is no reason why this should have happened.

“We are pleased to have secured our client with the compensation she deserves. The sizable compensation reflects the harm that has been done and the support and care she will need for the rest of her life.”

Breach of duty

The patient, who had no family history of glaucoma, booked a sight test in June 2016 after noticing that her eyesight was deteriorating.

She was referred to an ophthalmic clinic where she was seen a month later and diagnosed with primary open angle glaucoma.

An urgent referral to attend Southampton Eye Hospital for treatment was made but the patient did not receive an appointment for three and a half months.

The patient was prescribed eye drops and was told that frequent appointments at the eye unit would be required. However, the patient was not seen from 30 November 2016 until 19 September 2017.

“It’s a complete tragedy and there is no reason why this should have happened”

Medical negligence specialist and partner at law firm Moore Blatch, Vicky Hydon

She telephoned the eye unit on several occasions to complain that her eyesight was deteriorating and that her eye drops were painful but did not receive an appointment.

When the patient was seen in September 2017, her intraocular pressure was 26mmHg in both eyes and was told that she would be reviewed in a month’s time.

The patient was seen on 21 November 2017 and three times in January 2018 but no action was taken to reduce her intraocular pressure and no surgery was undertaken.

When the patient attended the clinic in February 2018, she was blind and subsequent laser treatment did not improve her eyesight.

After a letter of claim was forwarded to the trust, a full admission of breach of duty was made as well as an admission that had the patient undergone surgery before the end of 2016, some of her sight would have been saved.

A significant national problem

Moore Blatch highlighted that the patient is one of 16 people who were treated at the same clinic and had also suffered preventable harm.

The law firm said that an NHS Serious Investigation Report found that the trust had failed to enter all patients for out-of-time appointments onto a spreadsheet and had failed to assess the individual patient’s clinical risk factor.

A spokesperson for University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust said: “This is a significant national problem and, like many other trusts, we are working closely with NHS England and NHS Improvement, along with our commissioners, to address the growing capacity and recruitment issues in ophthalmology.”

It highlighted that it has taken steps to address the backlog in follow-up appointments, including immediate risk assessments to ensure that those most in need are seen at the earliest opportunity.

The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch is currently conducting a national review of glaucoma delays, which the trust is also participating in.

Chief executive at Fight for Sight, Sherine Krause, said: “That delays to ophthalmology services are happening is unacceptable, but sadly this news is not surprising. Glaucoma in particular requires prompt attention, since damage to the optic nerve caused by glaucoma and the resulting loss of vision cannot be reversed. With cataract services already being rationed in some parts of England, this is yet another example of ophthalmology services not being seen as a priority.”

Image credit: Getty/AndreyPopov

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