Patients have an absolute right to be fully informed of all the risks before undergoing surgery. In one case where that did not happen, a teacher who was left paralysed in all four limbs following a spinal operation was awarded compensation from the NHS.
The mother-of-three underwent the disc replacement and decompression surgery in order to relieve back pain from which she had suffered for years. The operation had been competently performed by a consultant orthopaedic surgeon and experts could not be sure exactly what caused the catastrophic damage to her spinal cord that resulted in tetraparesis.
In upholding her claim, however, the High Court found that she had not given her informed consent to the operation and would not have gone through with it had she been made aware of the known hazard of paralysis. The surgeon, whose medical skills were not matched by his ability to communicate with patients, had failed to warn her of that risk.
She had been disconcerted by the fact that she had not been able to say goodbye to her husband before going under anaesthetic and her mind was thus not engaged on the pre-operative consent form when she signed it. The amount of her damages award was agreed at £4.4 million.