Pressure Sores and Clinical Negligence: Seeking Compensation

Mon 8th Apr 2024
pressure sores clinical negligence

Pressure sores, also known as pressure ulcers or bedsores, can occur due to clinical negligence. In a hospital or care facility setting, failure to assess risk or provide adequate care can lead to these potentially life-threatening injuries.

Over 700,000 people are affected by pressure ulcers each year in the UK, 180,000 of which are newly acquired. If caught early, pressure sores can be treated with the patient making a full recovery. However, the longer a sore goes unnoticed, the more potential for complications and even death.

For those who have experienced pressure sores due to clinical negligence, many choose to take legal action. So, what do you need to know if you’re seeking compensation for yourself, or another person, who has suffered? Sharon Parsons, from Coodes’ Clinical Negligence team, explains…

Pressure sores and the risk factors

Pressure sores are defined by the NHS as areas of damage to your skin and the tissue underneath. They usually form on bony areas of the body such as heels, elbows, hips, and tailbone. Typically, they develop gradually however they can sometimes appear over a few hours.

You’re most at risk of getting them if you have difficulty moving. For this reason, they’re often found in patients in the hospital as well as long-term care facilities.

When in a healthcare setting, medical professionals should be aware of the risk factors for contracting pressure sores. Older people, particularly those over the age of 70, are more likely to develop them due to being less mobile with delicate skin. Similarly, if somebody is immobile or has difficulty moving, is obese, has a poor diet, poor circulation, or fragile skin they are at risk.

Failure to identify high-risk patients or make subsequent attempts to prevent pressure sores can point to clinical negligence. Particularly when you consider that pressure sores can lead to complications such as sepsis, cellulitis, infections, cancer, and necrosis.

Causes of pressure sores

Pressure sores can be caused due to a number of factors. These can be inadequately trained medical professionals who are unfamiliar with the risk factors or what to look for. It can be due to improper treatment or through failure to use the right equipment. It can also be due to a prolonged time in bed due to a delay in the start of treatment.

There are three different forces that can also lead to pressure sores, and these are prolonged pressure, shear, or friction. Prolonged pressure is when extreme force or stress is placed on a bone against a surface. Shear happens when a person stays in one place but internally muscles are sliding down and punching blood vessels. Friction pressure happens where patients are being moved around causing trauma to muscle tissue.

Stages 1 to 4 of pressure sores

Being able to identify a pressure sore can help people visiting those in hospital or long-term care facilities. If you suspect that a loved one has a pressure sore, you can alert the medical team to treat the wound.  If you suspect they are experiencing clinical negligence, catching a pressure sore early is key to recovery. They are graded from stages one to four with four being the most severe.

Stage one

Stage one is the mildest and only affects the upper layers of skin. The patient may complain of pain, or a mild burning or itch. It could be discoloured and a different temperature to the rest of the person’s skin. If you press on the sore, it doesn’t change colour meaning less blood is getting to the area.

To help somebody experiencing the first stages of a pressure sore, it’s important to relieve the pressure on the sore, move them regularly if you can as well as keeping it clean and dry. Diets high in protein, iron, zinc and vitamins A and C can also help prevent pressure sores.

Stage two

During stage two, the sore begins to go below the surface of the skin leaving it broken as an open wound or blister. It will be painful, swollen, discoloured and warm to the touch. The treatment for an advanced pressure sore is the same as for stage one. Clean it with a salt water solution and keep it covered with a bandage or moist gauze. It’s also important to keep an eye out for signs of infection.

Stage three

If a pressure sore is allowed to get to this stage, it is then considered serious. A person facing a stage three pressure sore is at risk of further complications. A stage three sore has now passed through the second layer of skin and into the fatty tissue. By this point, it will resemble a crater and potentially have a bad odour with signs of infection. If the tissue has already begun to die, then the surrounding skin will be black.

It’s vital to consult a doctor at this stage to remove the dead tissue or issue antibiotics if needed. Once it’s been treated, a stage three pressure sore can take one to four months to heal.

Stage four

Stage four is the most serious and can potentially be life-threatening. It may affect the muscles and ligaments of the patient going forward. These will be deep, large pressure sores with the previous signs of blackened skin and infection. At this stage, the sores will be deep enough to mean you can see tendons, muscles, or bones.

This is an emergency situation, and you will require immediate help from a doctor and potentially surgery. After a stage four pressure sore is treated, it can take anywhere from three months to heal and could even take years.

Treatment and prevention

Pressure sores can be stopped if they are caught in time and treated correctly. Unfortunately, in scenarios where staff are busy, there may be certain patients who do not receive the care they need.

If risk factors are identified for pressure sores, then the patient should be regularly turned by staff if they are unable to do it themselves. There is also equipment, such as air mattresses and inflatables, which can be used to relieve pressure off people’s bodies. This, as well as regular washing, a balanced diet and plenty of fluids will help.

Seeking compensation

Where a patient has been the victim of clinical negligence, you may be able to claim compensation.

However, there will be certain circumstances where a pressure sore is not the fault of medical teams and is therefore not clinical negligence. For example, some patients can come in with existing tissue disorders. Additionally, moving certain patients could put their immediate health at more risk than leaving them static with the potential to get a pressure sore. In these instances, where medical staff have chosen to leave a person still, doesn’t necessarily show neglect.

On the other hand, with a good standard of care, most instances of pressure sores can be avoided. In the few situations where a pressure sore has occurred and led to complications, you can claim compensation. This could be due to a failure to identify a patient’s risk, lack of treatment and speed of treatment or not conducting regular checks.

At Coodes, our Clinical Negligence team can conduct an assessment to see if your claim can be proven as clinical negligence. From that point, we can help to guide you through the claims process.

To find out more, get in touch with Sharon Parsons from our Clinical Negligence team or use our online contact form.

Mon 8th Apr 2024

Sharon Parsons

Litigation Executive

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