Pryers Solicitors are amongst the first to secure compensation for one of the victims of surgery by Mr Michael Walsh.
Mr Michael Walsh, Orthopaedic Surgeon
Mr Walsh was an Orthopaedic Surgeon. Up until April 2018 he was working in the private sector, at Spire Healthcare in Leeds. Spire contacted the Royal College of Surgeons following concerns about treatment Mr Walsh provided. This led to an investigation and Mr Walsh’s suspension.
It was reported that almost 50 patients were recalled in February, from a review of almost 200. Lisa Martinson-Smith was one of those recalled. She asked Pryers to investigate the treatment she had received.
Lisa is a property manager from North Leeds. Although primarily administrative, her role does involve some physical activity and driving.
She lived an active life, spending her free time in the gym. She also enjoyed horse riding and cycling. Unfortunately, all this had to pause in 2016 when she was injured in a car accident. She managed to avoid serious injuries, but immediately realised that she had damaged her shoulder.
Her local hospital told her she needed physiotherapy to treat a partially dislocated shoulder. However, she was disappointed with the phsyiotherapy’s effectiveness.
Mr Walsh’s Treatment
Unimpressed by the lack of progress, Lisa was referred to Nuffield Hospital, privately. Here she met Mr Michael Walsh. She first saw him in December 2017, and he was quick to discuss the possibility of surgery.
Following some scans, in January 2018, Mr Walsh confirmed that she needed surgery. Reassured by Mr Walsh’s apparent experience and outward confidence, Lisa followed his advice to undergo an operation to repair and reconstruct the ligament.
Lisa said “He told me this method would be less invasive than alternative methods. He really took the time to explain in detail the procedure, using diagrams to show how he would hold the clavicle in place. It all seemed to make perfect sense to me so, as I was having little success with physiotherapy, I went ahead with the surgery.”
Unsuccessful Surgery by Mr Walsh
In February 2018, Mr Walsh told her he was struggling to find surgery time at Nuffield, so he moved her to Spire Healthcare for the surgery.
Mr Walsh confirmed her surgery was a success. However, she was shocked to learn that the surgery included trimming her clavicle, which was not something she was warned about.
Lisa never really noticed any improvement, she said; “If anything I was worse off after the surgery, I was still in a lot of pain. I was still going to physiotherapy, but it wasn’t helping. I would get muscle spasms causing more pain. When looking in the mirror, it looked like my shoulder had dropped lower than the other one. Mr Walsh kept reassuring me that everything was fine, but I was losing confidence in his advice.”
Mr Walsh Suspended
Lisa was still receiving follow up care under Mr Walsh when he was suspended. She only found out he was suspended when she tried to book a follow up appointment and was told that he was not available. Mr Walsh’s secretary initially reassured Lisa that it was nothing to do with his ability as a surgeon – although it has since transpired that this is not the case.
In June she met with a new surgeon who immediately confirmed that Mr Walsh’s surgery had failed.
Putting Things right
In November 2018 Lisa underwent revision surgery. This was much less painful, despite it being a more invasive procedure than Mr Walsh’s surgery.
The surgeon also identified a possible infection, which could have been caused by Mr Walsh’s technique during the procedure.
Although Lisa has progressed significantly since her revision surgery under the care of a new surgeon, it has taken a long time to get there, and she will never reach her previous physical condition.
She continues to experience weakness, fatigue and muscle spasms in her shoulder. This means she is unable to ride horses, cycle or even exercise with the same intensity as she used to. She has also been left with a significantly scarred and deformed shoulder.
Fighting for Compensation
Tamlin Bolton, Senior Solicitor at Pryers helped Lisa claim compensation for the injuries caused by Mr Walsh. Tamlin said; “Lisa’s story was so dismaying. It seemed quite obvious that Mr Walsh had pushed her down the wrong treatment route. So, I turned to an independent Orthopaedic surgeon for his opinion on the course of treatment Lisa received. He said that the technique Mr Walsh chose was extremely old fashioned and outdated. Mr Walsh failed to take into account that by the time he saw Lisa, her injury was almost a year old, the approach he adopted, was never going to restore function in her shoulder”
She continued; “Mr Walsh’s solicitors denied any negligence on his part in response to all the allegations, despite clear, strong expert evidence to the contrary. They also insisted on a confidentiality clause in any settlement agreement. There was absolutely no reason why a claim against Mr Walsh should have been kept secret or hidden from public knowledge. It is important that people know of these errors so that we can try to reduce the chances of them happening to someone else. Outwardly denying all allegations of negligence and then trying to keep any settlement quiet, does nothing to serve the interests of justice. There was very little surgical reputation left to protect!”
Despite the defendant solicitor denying responsibility, we successfully negotiated compensation for Lisa’s injuries. This means she can now embark on putting this chapter of her life behind her, as she learns to live with the permanent impairment she has been left with.
Although Mr Walsh remains the subject of various ongoing investigations; including dozens of compensation claims, from other patients like Lisa, now retired it’s too late for him to learn any lessons from his mistakes.
But this isn’t the first time Spire Healthcare have come under the spotlight, and they are still open for business. However, in the last few years they’ve been at the centre of similar scrutiny on no fewer than four occasions. Most notably, ‘rouge breast surgeon’, Ian Paterson, who was subsequently jailed for 20 years, but also Habib Rahman and Manu Nair, who collectively caused the recall of more than 300 patients. Sadly, with the repetition of similar failings, there’s no signs that Spire are learning from the repeated failings.
It’s not enough to issue apologies and provide restorative action, years after failings have already ruined lives. Patients deserve more protection when using private services.
Despite the press coverage Mr Walsh has already amassed, his Solicitors were keen to ensure our client’s settlement was confidential. But our client was shocked by the extent of Mr Walsh’s failings and did not want to be bound by confidentiality. Pryers managed to negotiate a settlement that enables her to tell her story, which she hopes might go some way to lessons being learned and future failings avoided.
This desire to hide mistakes from the public, points to another serious problem. If some medical professionals are unwilling to admit when something has gone wrong, how can they possible prevent them from happening again? Doctors are only human, so will occasionally make mistakes. Being open and honest is part of their duty of care. Any secrecy whether it be malicious or not is preventing personal and professional development, which only puts patients at risk.
Advice from an Expert
Whilst we wait to see if any learnings are ultimately made from the string of recent failings at Spire Healthcare, an expert that Pryers spoke to gave the following advice for patients looking to undergo private surgery:
- Avoid surgeons that do not practice in the NHS. They get out of touch with modern practice and there is a limited requirement to attend training seminars, industry conferences or keep up to date with scientific literature.
- There is a lower threshold to suggest a surgical treatment option in the private sector. If they can operate on your injury, they will! Physiotherapy and waiting to see how any injury might progress, does not pay as well as theatre time.
That’s not to say that there isn’t a time and place for private surgery, but everyone should be aware of the potential risks surrounding it.