Can I Claim For A Misdiagnosed Hospital Infection?
The Law Of… Claiming For Avoidable Infections
A visit to the hospital can be a daunting enough prospect at the best of times, without the threat of a hospital infection prolonging your stay. Unfortunately, such events do sometimes occur and can be life-threatening or life-changing to a patient.
Medical Negligence Associate, Sarah Holdsworth, provides the answers to frequently asked questions about hospital infections.
What Is A Hospital Infection?
A hospital infection, also referred to as healthcare-associated infection (HCAI) or hospital-acquired infection, develops as a result of time spent in hospital, or an associated venue such as a hospice or care home.
They are usually resilient due to the already compromised nature of the patient and can be life-threatening or lead to complications that have lifelong consequences.
What Types Of Hospital Infection Are There?
Common types of hospital infection include:
- MRSA – Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus is a bacterial infection which is immune to the effects of several antibiotics, making it harder to treat. It can live on your skin without any consequence and only becomes dangerous if it enters the body. This is made possible in a hospital environment via wounds, drips or other extensive breaches of the skin. It is highly contagious and, if not treated correctly, can kill.
- C. difficile – Clostridium difficile (C. diff) is a particularly powerful bacterial infection of the bowel that causes continual diarrhoea, stomach cramps and fever. It has a tendency to affect people who have been taking antibiotics, is easily spread and can lead to further complications such as bowel damage, which can prove fatal if left untreated.
- Norovirus – The 'winter vomiting bug' also causes diarrhoea and has been known to close down entire hospital wings due to its highly contagious properties. It usually passes without major incident but can lead to further complications in the young and elderly, or severe dehydration if fluid intake is not maintained.
- Legionnaires' disease – A severe, potentially fatal form of pneumonia that is spread by inhaling the bacteria carried in tiny particles of water. It is usually caught when the bacteria has invaded a hospital's water supply and passed on via taps, toilets, showers and air conditioning. Legionnaires' disease requires quick diagnosis and treatment to prevent it becoming life-threatening. Long term after effects include fatigue.
- Urinary tract infection – The most common type of hospital infection, UTIs are predominately caused by contamination from urinary catheters. If quickly identified, a UTI can usually be treated with antibiotics, causing no further complications. If missed, left untreated, or in some cases of long-term catheter use, it can result in more serious blood infections such as sepsis.
- Surgical site infections – An infection caused by the invasion of germs, such as bacteria or a virus, at the site of where an incision was made during a surgical procedure. Symptoms of the infection will usually become apparent within 30 days of the operation and be treated with antibiotics. Failure to treat effectively will lead to further, often life-threatening complications.
What Causes Hospital Infections?
Hospital infections are caused by pathogens entering the body, which multiply and attack cells.
This happens for a variety of reasons, which include:
- Overexposure to antibiotics
- Prolonged use of invasive implements such as catheters or cannulas
- Poor hygiene procedures
- Inefficient disposal procedures for clinical waste
- Understaffed or overcrowded wards
- Inadequate implementation of infection control procedures.
Hospital-acquired infections can be particularly virulent in such environments due to the already vulnerable state of sick patients, whose compromised immune systems create a fertile habitat in which infectious diseases can thrive.
Who Is At Risk Of A Hospital Infection?
All patients carry a risk of contracting a hospital infection, but some are more susceptible than others. The young, the elderly and those whose immune systems are particularly stricken are especially at risk, along with those who undergo prolonged stays.
What Are The Complications Of A Hospital Infection?
Complications of varying degrees of severity can result from a healthcare-associated infection. Depending upon the strain of infection, these can range from discomfort and pain, through blood infections, amputation and even death.
What If My Hospital Infection Was Misdiagnosed Or Treatment Delayed?
If you have suffered as a result of a hospital infection that was missed or left untreated, leading to further complications, ongoing health problems or disability, you may be entitled to compensation.
If an avoidable hospital infection resulted in the death of a loved one, you may have grounds to make a claim on their behalf.
Why Should I Make A Claim For A Hospital Infection?
A successful claim for a hospital infection will:
- Increase awareness of any problems or errors that led to your complaint and the negligence that occurred in its diagnosis and treatment
- Provide you with a financial settlement that will help you acquire the care, support and treatment for any ongoing physical, emotional or psychological problems that resulted from your infection.
How Do I Make A Compensation Claim For A Hospital-Acquired Infection?
To make a claim for your infection you should seek professional and independent legal advice. Simpson Millar has a dedicated Medical Negligence team who specialise in handling often complex claims of this nature.
They can provide the guidance and representation you need to win a hospital infection compensation claim.
How Long Do I Have To Make A Claim For A Hospital Infection?
You have 3 years from when you acquired the infection, or from when its resulting adverse effects were diagnosed, to commence your claim. If you are claiming on behalf of somebody who died as a result of a hospital infection, you have 3 years from the date of their passing.
If it was your child who sustained injury, you have until they reach the age of 18 to start the claim in their name, after which responsibility passes to the child and the 3 year limitation begins. If your child is classed as a 'Protected Person', defined as incapable of managing their affairs due to mental disorder, the time limit does not apply.
What Do I Do Next?
If during your time in a hospital, hospice, care home or associated setting you were the victim of a hospital infection that led to further complications, contact Simpson Millar's Medical Negligence Department today.
Our experience and expertise in this field will ensure you get the compensation you are entitled to.