Six doctors did not spot man's fatal broken back

Pensioner's family call for compensation after inquest verdict

A man died after six doctors at two hospitals failed to diagnose that he had broken his spine. Four consultants and two radiologists at Wythenshawe Hospital and North Manchester General Hospital missed Neville Caplan's injury for three weeks after he had a fall. The 70-year-old retired pastry chef died three days after the diagnosis.

Yesterday the pensioner's family, who waited four years for an inquest, said they were considering legal action. Mr Caplan's son Jeff, 51, said: "The coroner has identified a misdiagnosis in two major hospitals. My mother, sisters and myself are devastated by such an unnecessary death. It is now in the hands of our lawyers. Compensation would be the logical next step."

The coroner, Nigel Meadows, said: "Had the spinal fracture been diagnosed shortly after it was sustained, it was treatable by surgical intervention."

The coroner heard specialist evidence from Saeed Mohammed, a spinal surgeon based at Hope Hospital, Salford. Mr Meadows asked Mr Mohammed: "On the balance of probabilities, do you think this was a condition that treatment could have saved?" Mr Mohammed answered: "Correct."

The coroner asked: "From 11 November to 1 December, do you think that was a reasonable opportunity?" Mr Mohammed replied: "Correct."

Mr Caplan, of Prestwich, Manchester, was a walking enthusiast, studied writing skills and was caring for his wife Cynthia at the time of his death.

The inquest was told that, after he slipped on stairs at his son's home in Hale, he was taken to Wythenshawe Hospital and diagnosed with mild pneumonia, broken ribs and a sprained ankle.

Two doctors failed to identify his broken back or ask about his long-term spinal condition that made him vulnerable to back injuries.

The hospital's X-rays were later re-examined and found to be "technically inadequate" but they were not redone.

Mr Caplan was sent home with antibiotics and painkillers but spent days sleeping on a chair at home, in increasing pain. He was admitted to North Manchester General Hospital five days later, complaining of breathing difficulties and pressure on his spinal cord. Again, he was treated by two doctors and a radiologist who all failed to spot his condition. Two weeks later, the hospital eventually carried out scans that revealed his broken spine and pressure on his spinal cord.

By that time, he was too ill to transfer to Hope Hospital for life-saving surgery. Mr Caplan died at North Manchester General on 4 December 2004.

Jeff Caplan told the inquest that transferring his father from a raised-back bed to a flat bed also contributed to his illness. He also said that nurses "dropped" the pensioner while trying to guide him, worsening his spinal fracture. Dr Howard Klass, a consultant at North Manchester General, said he could not rule out the claims.

But he added: "There was nothing clinically for us to suspect that he had a fracture or spinal cord compression." Dr Darren Walter, a consultant from Wythenshawe Hospital, argued that chest X-rays on the day of Mr Caplan's accident would be unlikely to have revealed the spinal injury, even if they had been clear.

Recording a narrative verdict the coroner added: "Everyone who treated him tried to do the very best for him. It was unfortunate that the original fracture was not diagnosed, nor the history of spondylitis, which may have impacted on his assessment and condition."

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