A nurse whose career and chance to become a mother were destroyed by back injuries from lifting patients has won more than £410,000 in damages.
Angela Knott cannot walk properly and suffers from incontinence and sexual dysfunction because of injuries caused while working at Newham General Hospital in East London.
She told the High Court in London how she was forced to ignore hospital policy on lifting patients because of staff and equipment shortages.
Despite two operations, the 36-year-old, who became a nurse when she was 18, remains in constant pain, cannot sit comfortably for more than 15 minutes, and requires medication.
She was awarded £414,335 yesterday in a landmark judgment that could encourage other nurses to claim damages.
The NHS faces a bill of more than £800,000, including about £400,000 in legal costs.
After the case Mrs Knott, who comes from a family of nurses, burst into tears as she told how her life had been ruined.
She said: 'I was born to nurse. It is the only thing I ever wanted to do and I worked hard to get where I was.
'Now I can't bear to be reminded of nursing in any way. They took my career away from me and my choice to have children.'
She added: 'There are hundreds of nurses out there suffering. We are not appreciated and the management treat us like cannon fodder.'
Mrs Knott, of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, told the court she lifted a total patient weight of 9.9 tons on one morning shift and 8.9 tons on an afternoon shift.
A 'drag lift' was used to move patients because the one available hoist on the 28-bed ward was often broken or being cleaned.
A drag lift involves two nurses grabbing a patient under each arm to carry or drag them.
Complaints from Mrs Knott and other nurses on the ward - which housed highly dependent HIV, cancer and stroke patients - did not lead to any improvement.
The NHS accepted that there was serious understaffing but claimed that Mrs Knott's injury was unrelated to work.
In January 1998, she experienced low back pain after lifting a patient six times in one day. She later suffered prolapsed discs in her back which had to be pinned in an operation in March 1999. She needed another operation in December 2000.
Mrs Knott is now training to be a bereavement counsellor.
Mr Justice Simon said in his judgment: 'The hospital did not operate an appropriate system for lifting patients in the Beckton Ward. Arrangements for lifting were inadequate to protect their staff and patients.'
Newham Healthcare NHS Trust, which is responsible for the hospital, requested an appeal but the judge rejected it on the grounds that it would not succeed.
Mrs Knott's solicitor Harold Immanuel said: 'This is a ground-breaking case which, I have no doubt, will open the floodgates for hundreds of other nurses in similar positions.'
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