What Can I Do If I Got Pressure Sores In Hospital?
The Law Of… Surviving Pressure Sores
Pressure sores affect the skin and the tissue beneath and can be extremely painful. They can also be life-threatening if allowed to become infected.
Daxa Patel, a Medical Negligence Partner at Simpson Millar, answers frequently asked questions about these often underestimated injuries.
What Are Pressure Sores?
Pressure sores, sometimes referred to as pressure ulcers or bed sores, are injuries to the surface of the skin and, in more serious cases, the tissue that lies beneath it. They are usually caused by inactivity.
There are 4 categories of pressure sore, classed depending upon severity. These are:
- Category 1 pressure sore – Category 1 sees the pressure sore in its early stages. This will result in some pain or itchiness, along with a discoloured patch upon the skin. Pale skin tends to turn red, whereas darker skin presents purple or blue blemishes. The pressure sore may feel warmer than the surrounding skin.
- Category 2 pressure sore – This category presents as an open wound, which resembles a dry ulcer, or as an intact or ruptured blister.
- Category 3 pressure sore – Category 3 sees the pressure sore in a more advanced state, with the open wound having become deeper. Both the outer layer of skin (epidermis) and the tissue beneath (dermis) will be gone and the underlying layer of fat (subcutaneous) may be evident.
- Category 4 pressure sore – This is the complete loss of epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous fat, exposing the muscle or tendons and sometimes tunnelling deeper to lay bare the bone underneath.
All categories of pressure sore require treatment of some form or another, but the latter stages require particular attention. If left untreated, they can lead to further, more serious complications such as infection and life-threatening conditions such as sepsis or septicaemia.
What Causes Pressure Sores?
Pressure sores are caused by continuous external pressure upon the affected area. Sites where the bone is especially close to the skin, such as the elbows, hips, shoulder blades and heels, are particularly susceptible to pressure sores.
The injuries develop when the combination of external pressure on one side of the skin and bone upon the other compresses the capillaries, interrupting the blood supply. The lack of an adequate oxygen supply causes tissue death, resulting in the sore.
Friction can also be a cause of pressure sores, developing where the skin is continually rubbing against a surface, whether through voluntary or involuntary movement such as spasms.
In some cases a pressure sore develops when the skin shears away from underlying tissue. This is caused by the skin and bone moving in opposite directions, such as when a patient slides down their hospital bed.
Who Is At Risk From Pressure Sores?
Recovering patients, the paralysed, or those dormant through coma or sedation are particularly at risk of pressure sores due to their lack of mobility. The same can be said for elderly patients or those bedbound in care homes, with the combination of inactivity and thinner, more vulnerable skin leaving them prone to such injuries.
The obese, the incontinent, those with a poor diet or poor circulation are also at a higher risk of developing the injury.
How Are Pressure Sores Treated?
The best treatment for pressure sores is preventative. In a hospital or care home, this would involve carrying out a risk assessment and regularly repositioning the patient or ensuring they changed position themselves at frequent intervals. Checking skin for the early signifiers of pressure sores would also be necessary.
If a pressure sore develops, the subsequent treatment depends upon its category. In less serious instances, a dressing to remove the pressure and assist in the healing process may suffice, along with regular repositioning.
In more severe cases, cleaning the wound, removing the dead tissue (debriding) and a course of antibiotics may be required. Where the damage is particularly bad, surgical closure of the wound could be advised.
What Complications Can Arise From A Pressure Sore?
If left untreated and the pressure unmanaged, the sore will continue to develop. As the skin breaks down and tissue dies, the opportunity for infection increases.
Infections require immediate attention to prevent blood poisoning, bone infections, gangrene and other life-threatening conditions developing. Sepsis and septicaemia are a particular risk, along with the destruction of the muscle and bone beneath.
My Pressure Sores Went Undiagnosed Or Untreated, What Can I Do?
If you developed pressure sores while in hospital and there was a failure to identify or treat them in a timely manner, leading to further complications, you may be entitled to compensation.
If a relative was affected by pressure sores (in a hospital or care home) and became ill or passed away as a consequence, you may be able to make a claim on their behalf.
Why Should I Make A Claim For Pressure Sores?
Making a successful medical negligence claim for your pressure sores will:
- Ensure you receive the financial means to provide the support and ongoing care your resulting health problems or condition requires
- Help to highlight the errors that led to your misdiagnosis or delayed treatment, so they are not repeated and allowed to affect other patients.
How Do I Make A Claim For Pressure Sores?
To make a compensation claim for pressure sores and any resulting complications gained during your time in hospital, you should seek independent legal advice from a law firm, such as Simpson Millar, that has a dedicated Medical Negligence Department.
They will be able to offer you both expert guidance and representation.
How Long Do I Have To Make A Claim?
There is a 3 year time limitation on starting a medical negligence claim. This applies either from when the injury was diagnosed or when the subsequent complications were identified.
If you are claiming on behalf of a child, you have until they reach the age of 18 to make a claim on their behalf, after which the 3 year deadline begins.
For a Protected Person – classed by the Limitation Act as 'incapable of managing their property and affairs due to mental disorder' – there are no time restrictions on you making a claim in their name. This applies to offspring and elderly relatives alike.
What Should I Do Next?
If you believe your pressure sores were due to substandard care, or they were allowed to get worse and develop complications through a failure to diagnose and treat effectively, you should speak to us.
Our expert medical negligence team has the experience to handle complex claims of this nature and ensure you get the compensation you are entitled to.
To discuss your case, contact Simpson Millar today.