Fall man sent home after doctors failed to spot fractured spine

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DOCTORS failed to notice a 71-year-old man had fractured his spine and four ribs when he was taken to hospital four days before he died.

Robert Carter ,of Pensford Drive, Eastbourne, was given pain killers for what Eastbourne DGH medical staff thought was bruising and grazing to his back.

But the retired printer had suffered fatal injuries after falling backwards over a wall near his home.

Four fractured ribs caused part of his right lung to collapse and blood to pool in a cavity between his fractured ribs and lung.

After deteriorating at home for three days he was rushed back to hospital where the extent of his injuries was revealed.

Mr Carter, who suffered from lung disease among other serious ailments, died of respiratory failure on August 5.

Family at the inquest at Eastbourne Magistrates’ Court on April 7 asked why Mr Carter had not been given an x-ray when he was first taken to A&E on August 1 last year.

Dr Gabrielle Rose - who was working her last shift as a foundation doctor at the DGH - explained notes from a nurse showed no indication of chest problems.

“I didn’t think he needed an x-ray, he didn’t have any spinal tenderness, he only had a little pain when I pressed around his bruise.

“I didn’t think it was related to his breathing or chest.

“We only normally subject someone to radiation if we’re worried about them,” she said.

Emergency medicine consultant Dr Salim Shubber said, “One of the things we do tell our doctors is the back is also part of the chest and you don’t only need to look at their back, but also their front.

“We have to take him, not just as having back pain, but as a patient who has fallen over a wall.

“We have to appreciate that could cause injuries which may be related to a knocked chest or anything else and those things will be checked off.

“On this occasion we have missed those injuries and we apologise for that.”

When an investigation was launched into Mr Carter’s death, bogus information was discovered on Mr Carter’s medical notes which suggests he had impossibly poor breathing.

The entry, which Dr Rose denied making and which no other medical staff admitted to writing, was later proved to be entirely inaccurate.

But consultant surgeon Vasilis Trompetas said even if the DGH staff had identified his breathing problems Mr Carter would have struggled to recover from his injuries.

He said, “Although he suffered injuries a normal healthy person would have been in hospital for a few weeks but they were fatal for him.”

Deputy coroner Joanna Pratt recorded a verdict of accidental death but expressed concern over respiratory tests.