Free to carry on working: The chiropractor who broke patient’s neck… then told 999 call-handler she thought he’d had a stroke
- John Lawler, 80, suffered a broken neck and died during medical treatment
- His widow said she was ‘devastated’ by decision to clear his chiropractor Arleen Scholten of misconduct
- Paramedics were wrongly told by Scholten he had suffered a possible stroke
Cleared: Chiropractor Arleen Scholten
The family of a patient who suffered a broken neck and died during medical treatment have hit out after his chiropractor was controversially cleared of misconduct and allowed to carry on working.
The widow of John Lawler, 80, said she was ‘devastated’ by the decision to clear Arleen Scholten, who used the title ‘Dr’ despite not being medically qualified.
Mr Lawler died in hospital the day after being left a quadriplegic when he suffered ‘irreversible’ spinal damage during an appointment with the practitioner.
Paramedics were wrongly told by the chiropractor he had suffered a possible stroke, and an inquest two years ago was told that retired bank manager Mr Lawler probably would have survived if he had been immediately immobilised for a suspected neck fracture.
But the conduct committee of the General Chiropractic Council not only dismissed the fatality as ‘the entirely unforeseeable consequence of the treatment’, it also said the vital misleading information given to 999 call handlers and paramedics was the result of an ‘acute stress reaction’ by Mrs Scholten.
The inaccurate record-keeping about the treatment she had given was also forgiven by the committee as stress-related.
It said she was ‘not inherently a dishonest person’. In deciding to clear her of unacceptable professional conduct, the committee concluded: ‘Mrs Scholten was suffering from an acute stress reaction at the time of this unprofessional behaviour and accordingly that behaviour was not deliberate but rather inadvertent.’
Joan Lawler, the widow of John Lawler, 80, (pictured together), said she was ‘devastated’ by the decision to clear Arleen Scholten, who used the title ‘Dr’ despite not being medically qualified
It added that fully informed members of the public ‘would not consider her failings to be morally reprehensible or deplorable, but rather would consider them regrettable but understandable in the exceptional, albeit tragic, circumstances of this case’.
Mr Lawler visited Mrs Scholten’s private clinic in York in August 2017 after suffering a leg injury from falling through a garden chair. He wrongly believed the practitioner was a medically qualified doctor.
Father-of-three Mr Lawler had been recommended for physio by his GP but there was too long a waiting list. He chose to go to the clinic purely as he passed it on daily walks near home and his healthcare insurers signed off on the treatment costs.
Chiropractors primarily use manual manipulation – usually via their hands – to treat problems with bones, muscles and joints. Mrs Scholten was aware her patient had previous surgery to insert rods into his spine.
The committee heard Mr Lawler went for a series of appointments for ‘alignment treatment’ and a ‘drop technique’ was used on him.
The patient’s wife Joan was with him in the treatment room on the day of the incident. She recalled when this technique was used, with part of the bed dropping down, Mr Lawler said: ‘You’re hurting me.’
She said Mrs Scholten continued the treatment by using an ‘activator’ – a handheld device that stimulates the spine – on his back, but stopped when the patient said he could not feel his arms. Instead of keeping him lying still, the chiropractor sat Mr Lawler in a chair, but rang 999 when he was unresponsive. The chiropractor then started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Mrs Scholten failed to mention using the ‘drop technique’ to the 999 operator and paramedics who arrived at the clinic. One paramedic said in a statement that she was told the patient suffered a ‘possible stroke’, and had she known it was a ‘trauma’ incident he would have been ‘immobilised’.
Mrs Scholten was later arrested but was never charged with a criminal offence.
The committee found factual allegations relating to misinformation and inaccurate record keeping were proved. But after reading dozens of character references they decided she was not guilty of unacceptable professional conduct.
The decision has angered Mr Lawler’s family, with his widow Joan saying she is ‘devastated’.
His son David, 57, an accountant, said: ‘Mrs Scholten told lies about her treatment and had she been honest, all the evidence suggests that the paramedics would have treated my father differently and he probably would have lived.’