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Calls for new guidelines after man dies following session with chiropractor

Mr Lawler suffered a fractured neck and spinal cord injury Credit: Family Photo

A coroner has called for new guidelines to be introduced to chiropractors after an elderly patient died when his neck broke on a treatment table.

80-year-old John Lawler died after being injured at a private clinic in York.

An inquest today found he'd suffered a fractured neck and spinal cord injury while undergoing treatment. He'd gone to the Chiropractic 1st practice close to the city centre in August 2017 with leg pain. But while on the treatment table he'd complained of pain before becoming then limp and unresponsive.

Chiropractor Arleen Scholton told the inquest she'd applied gentle manipulation and was shocked by what happened. A year-long police investigation concluded no charges should be brought against her.

Arleen Scholten Credit: Ben Lack

Mr Lawler's wife and children attended the final day of the inquest, at which the coroner recommended considering compulsory first aid training for all chiropractors and a review of the requirements for pre-treatment imaging scans.

The coroner rejected a request by Mr Lawyer's family to rule what happened amounted to unlawful killing. In his narrative conclusion, he pointed out that what wasn't known at the time was that the 80-year-old was suffering from a condition common in old age which would have made his spine more rigid.

Representatives for the chiropractor issued a statement today saying:

Arleen Scholten wishes to express her deepest sympathies to the family of Mr Lawler for their loss.

This was an extremely rare and unusual incident, which has been thoroughly investigated by the Coroner during the course of the inquest.

She will take on board the Coroner’s findings, and has already made changes to her practice since the incident.

– A representative for Arleen Scholten

Before leaving the family backed the coroner's recommendations and called on the General Chiropractic Council to take "immediate measures" to change how the profession is regulated.

These are sad circumstances. It has been difficult hearing the testimony of those affected and our sympathy goes to the whole family. The GCC followed the proceedings carefully each day. Following the completion of the Inquest we are now in a position to resume the investigation opened in 2017 following the death of Mr Lawler.

We must consider the Coroner’s findings carefully as we take our next steps. The case will be prepared for consideration by the GCC Investigating Committee for it to decide whether a hearing into the chiropractor’s fitness to practise be held. We will, however, wish to progress this matter as swiftly as possible.

We look forward to receiving the Coroner’s report on steps that might prevent deaths in the future.

– General Chiropractic Council

Fighting back tears Mr Lawler's daughter made a short statement afterwards before his widow Joan paid her own tribute.