Page last updated at 11:12 GMT, Sunday, 11 October 2009 12:12 UK

Payout for leg amputation mistake

By Michele Paduano
BBC Midlands Today health correspondent

Doreen Nicholls
Doreen Nicholls underwent surgery on 10 October 2007

A woman has been paid more than £100,000 in an out-of-court settlement after her leg was amputated unnecessarily because a lump was mistaken for cancer.

Doreen Nicholls, from Halesowen, in the West Midlands, was being treated at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham for the lump, which had appeared on her foot after surgery to have two toes shortened.

The lump was actually a rare swelling of the lining of a joint, but it was mistaken for a rare and aggressive soft tissue cancer.

A biopsy was taken and cancer diagnosed. The 72-year-old was told that she needed a below-the-knee amputation of her left leg and underwent surgery on 10 October 2007.

'Just devastating'

It was only after further tests were carried out on the lump after surgery that it was discovered that there was no cancer.

Mrs Nicholls said: "They called me back after the operation and the surgeon said: 'I've got a bombshell to tell you - I'm very sorry, but we shouldn't have taken the leg off'.

"I just came home and cried and cried. It was just devastating."

Tim Deeming, a medical negligence solicitor acting for Mrs Nicholls, said he believed the hospital had "completely failed" in its duty of care to her.

He added: "This is not the usual story of an error by an inexperienced, junior medic, but of a group of clinical experts - three of them world-renowned in their particular fields.

"Independent experts have confirmed that if an open biopsy rather than a needle biopsy had been carried out on Mrs Nicholls' foot prior to surgery, this would have led to the correct diagnosis."

'Extremely rare'

The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital denied its actions in this case had been negligent, but said it was pleased for Mrs Nicholls that the matter was settled without the need for expensive and distressing litigation.

Royal Orthopaedic Hospital
Some of the tumours we treat may occur only once in a generation and are extremely difficult to diagnose
Royal Orthopaedic Hospital statement

A statement said it had an excellent track record and was a one of a small number of hospitals in Europe dealing with extremely rare and unusual bone and soft tissue tumours.

"This trust is recognised around the world as a leading centre of excellence," it said.

It added: "Some of the tumours we treat may occur only once in a generation and are extremely difficult to diagnose," it said.

"It is a matter of regret that Mrs Nicholls' case was one of these extremely rare conditions."

The trust said it was "deeply sorry" about the outcome of her treatment and was continuing to review her progress.

Since the award, Mrs Nicholls has been able to buy a new prosthetic leg, which she said had reduced the pain.

However, she said that if she had been offered a million pounds, she would still prefer to have her leg.

She added she could no longer tend to her garden or look after her granddaughter.

Mrs Nicholls said: "The dear little soul says: 'When is it going to grow again Nanny, so we can play?'.

"I say: 'It's not going to grow'."

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