Optical Express ordered to pay £500,000 for damaged eyesight in landmark case

29 September 2014

Optical Express ordered to pay £500,000 for damaged eyesight in landmark case

High street chain, Optical Express, has been ordered to pay more than £500,000 damages to a woman after wrongful laser eye surgery resulted in such severe deterioration to her vision that she is now only able to read by candlelight and must wear dark glasses due to extreme light sensitivity.

Miss Stephanie Holloway, an antiquarian book dealer who was aspiring to become a police officer, was found to have not been properly warned of the risks involved in the eye surgery and the possible complications resulting from it. The case, initially handled by 5R1 Limited which now works exclusively with Mistreatment.com, marks a huge embarrassment for the chain, particularly in the way the case exposed its procedural working practices regarding the provision of eye surgery to its customers.

The damages award came to a total of £569,287, including £30,000 for Miss Holloway's 'pain and suffering' and over £400,000 for her lost earnings. As a further embarrassing blow to Optical Express, Judge Edward Bailey said Miss Holloway had paid £2,790 for an operation which 'on any objective basis she should never have had'.

Informed consent issues raised by the case

The case highlighted how informed consent procedures were not adhered to between patient and medical professional and how a ‘sales script’ culture at the branch manipulated and hurried Miss Holloway into undertaking the procedure providing her with little to no awareness about what the eye surgery procedure actually involved and the potential risks it might have entailed.

Short-sighted Miss Holloway was left with hazy vision and is now able to only read by candlelight, wearing dark glasses at all times due to extreme sensitivity to light-even having to wear the glasses in the shower. A a successful book dealer, her career collapsed along with her ambition to join the police force due the ensuing deterioration in her vision which now leads her to live by candle light at her home.

Miss Holloway first entered a Southampton branch in 2008 after being ‘enticed’ and ‘tempted’ by an eye surgery advert that stated treatment could be undertaken 'from £395'. After being assessed by the sales representative team, Optical Express were found to be working from a predefined sales script which cajoled and hurried Miss Holloway into paying for a procedure which was in fact not £395 but amounted to £2,750.

Despite not being comfortable at the vastly higher rate, Miss Holloway was harried into accepting proclamations from Optical Express that their high level of service to customers meant that 'they were in excellent hands' and that the same procedures were used for US Navy pilots. Detailed information that was uncovered in court showed how Miss Holloway was encouraged about the procedure when an optometrist told her 'he'd had it himself and his eyesight was brilliant'.

Conflict of interest and no "Cooling Off" period for the patient

The judge read from confidential guidance the chain gave to its staff, who were told to 'meet and greet' clients, 'manage their expectations' and 'encourage them to proceed' with the task of obtaining consent effectively delegated to Optical Express. Miss Holloway was assessed, provided with an explanation booklet and had payment quickly taken; all the while with the Ophthalmologist received a bonus for each “sale” clinched, highlighting a troubling conflict of interest. Furthermore a 24 hour ‘cooling off period’ was not given to Miss Holloway to think about the surgery and to make her own mind up about whether she wanted to proceed.

The actual eye surgery procedure included a rushed consultation-lasting as little as three to four minutes-with Miss Holloway signing a consent form immediately before the operation-an industry practice which is not recommended.

Ophthalmic surgeon Dr Joanna McGraw was adjudged to have given Miss Holloway an extremely short consultation in which there 'absolutely no way' she could have given Miss Holloway all the important information she needed in that time.

When Miss Holloway arrived for her operation a few days later, she waited another hour with her mother before a woman with a clipboard approached and gave her a consent form to sign.

Miss Holloway told the court she was 'shaking with fear' before the operation and initialled the form where the crosses were marked.

She added: "It was like a conveyor belt. I was under a lot of pressure. The lady did not leave my side. I was literally told to sign the form and I did what I was told".

The judge said it was 'well recognised in the profession' that immediately before an operation is not the moment to ask a patient to sign a consent form.

He said of the 'not appropriate' procedure followed in Miss Holloway's case: "That is not how things should be done".

Dr McGraw had warned her that her vision might be hazy after the operation but she did not explain the procedure she underwent or the full risks that it entailed.

Although the operation itself had been competently performed, Miss Holloway had not been given an information pack informing her of possible complications, the judge said.

After the operation, 'everything was hazy' and Miss Holloway felt 'sick and shocked'.

She underwent further 'extremely painful' surgery, which was unsuccessful, before being told there was nothing more doctors could do for her.

The judge said Miss Holloway had sunk into depression after the operation and became 'paranoid about going blind'.

She used candle light in her home, because electric lights were too bright for her to bear, but sometimes managed to read large print.

In constant fear of suffering an accident, she said friends helped her to buy food on the internet and she never went out alone.

Miss Holloway told the judge she had felt that 'life was hardly worth living'. 

Had she been told of the risks and that the operation might not be enough to get her into the police force, she would have 'walked straight out' of the branch.

Her relationship with her same-sex partner had broken down under the strain.

She felt she had been transformed from 'fun, active and good for a laugh' to 'a gross, angry and resentful person'.

Ruling both Optical Express and Dr McGraw liable to pay full compensation, the judge said Miss Holloway had at no point been given sufficient information about the risks of the surgery and possible complications in order to give 'informed consent'.

QUOTES FROM STEPHANIE HOLLOWAY

“I am delighted with the result today and it is such a relief to put this whole experience behind me. Optical Express have been aggressive throughout the litigation and used every tactic to try and make me abandon my claim.  They have never apologised for what happened to me. It has been an extremely challenging few years and I could not have achieved this fantastic result without Liz Bryant, Daniel Clifford and the rest of the team at Devonshires Solicitors.

I approached Optical Express in January 2008 as a naïve 21-year old who just wanted to correct her short sidedness so I could join the Police.  The risks of the procedure I was undertaking were never properly explained to me and I have now been left with corneal haze and regression and have to wear dark glasses as my eyes are so sensitive to light.  It is no exaggeration to say that every aspect of my life has been affected by Optical Express as a result of what has happened.  I cannot work and feel very isolated. I really miss my independence. I used to love going to parties and out to the pub. It is now too embarrassing to go out wearing dark tinted glasses. I have become clinically depressed.

I believe that people need to be made aware of the risks involved with this type of eye surgery and that it should be properly regulated.  My experience was of a high pressured sales pitch which led me to the surgery I underwent.  I just want to be a voice of warning to people and ask them to consider the possible ramifications of such a step.  They should make sure that they are seen and advised by a fully trained ophthalmic surgeon or ophthalmologist before having any surgery.”

Our Specialist Eye Surgery Negligence Advice Teams

Mistreatment.com has a specialist eye surgery medical negligence team which can offer advice to patients who may have had similar experiences to those of Miss Holloway. The Devonshires specialist medical negligence teams works alongside Mistreatment.com and regularly provide advice, support and guidance alongside those teams to members of the public regarding eye surgery negligence matters.

What you can do
Have you or a loved one wanted to raise a complaint with the NHS regarding medical mistreatment that has been experienced? Our specialist teams can provide FREE advice about what your options are, whether you want to make a medical negligence claim or medical mistreatment complaint or simply to better understand what your patient rights. You can contact us here today for  a no-obligation and completely free conversation to discuss what happened to you.

Photo Credit: The Telegraph