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Pensioner loses arm after catching flesh-eating bug at pilates class, as High Court rules she is entitled to compensation from NHS

Patricia Austin, who lost an arm to a flesh-eating bug, outside the High Court in London - Champion News
Patricia Austin, who lost an arm to a flesh-eating bug, outside the High Court in London - Champion News

A pensioner who lost her arm after catching a flesh-eating bug at church hall pilates class has won her claim in negligence against the NHS at the High Court.

Patricia Austin, 78, contracted necrotising fasciitis after injuring her arm at a resistance band workout at a church hall in Aylesbury, on August 8, 2012.

Mrs Austin may now receive up to £150,000 in compensation.

Having hurt her arm, Mrs Austin saw her GP and - by then very sick - her daughter later called 999, but a paramedic declined to take her to A&E immediately.

Instead, the paramedic decided she did not need hospital treatment, in the belief she had an abdominal condition, and advised her to take painkillers, the High Court heard.

Mrs Austin had initially thought she had tweaked a tendon during her class, but after eventually getting to hospital the next day, was diagnosed with the flesh-eating bacteria and the arm was removed.

She sued the South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, claiming her limb would have been saved if the paramedic had taken her to hospital on the previous evening.

And after ruling that the delay in getting her to hospital was a breach of the duty owed to the patient, a judge today awarded Mrs Austin the right to damages which could reach £150,000.

Mrs Austin's lawyers argued that the paramedic was wrong not to take her to hospital and that that led to her losing her arm to amputation.

Ruling on the case Judge Geoffrey Tattersall QC said the paramedic had decided it was "not necessary" to take Mrs Austin, who had seen her GP earlier that day, to hospital.

"She advised that Mrs Austin should continue taking paracetamol and rehydration fluids and that she or her family should contact her GP if the symptoms persisted, or call the ambulance back if they were concerned," he added.

The medic focused on Mrs Austin's abdomen as the source of her symptoms, he said, and took no steps to examine her patient's affected arm.

"Given the history of pain, it was in my judgment not reasonable for the paramedic not to examine the arm," the judge found.

Mrs Austin, although still conscious and communicating, had lost control of her bladder and bowels and was therefore in a serious condition, the court heard.

The judge added: "My finding that she had lost control of her bladder and bowels is sufficient to justify my conclusion that the paramedics were in breach of their duty of care owed to Mrs Austin by failing to arrange for her immediate transfer and admission to Stoke Mandeville."

"There were 11 hours in which she could have been diagnosed with necrotising fasciitis and received appropriate surgical treatment short of amputation," he added.

Although she would have suffered damage to her arm in any event, she would have escaped the horror of amputation, he continued.

"She would have been left with a cosmetically unattractive arm which would have been very weak and very restricted at the elbow, but it would have had some useful, if restricted, function," he added.

The case will return to court at a later date for an assessment of the amount Mrs Austin will receive in damages, if not agreed.

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