Claiming compensation for hospital pressure sores is not always a straightforward procedure. A patient making a claim for suffering from bed sores in a hospital or care more is more than likely to have been the victim of medical negligence and – in the majority of cases – the authority responsible for the standard of care will admit liability for the patient´s injuries.
However, settlements of compensation for hospital pressure sores should reflect the pain and suffering the patient has experienced and the long term consequences to their quality of life. In the most severe cases of pressure sores, the sores never heal. This can mean a lifetime of treatment for the patient and lifestyle changes to mitigate the ongoing risk of developing a serious infection.
This article explains how pressure sores develop in hospital and care homes, why they are mostly attributable to medical negligence, how you can make a claim for suffering from bed sores in a hospital on behalf of an elderly relative, and the considerations that should be taken into account when calculating settlements of compensation for hospital pressure sores.
However, this article is not intended to be a substitute for seeking legal advice that is relevant to your particular circumstances. If you or a relative have suffered bed sores in a hospital or care home due to the negligence of somebody who owed a duty of care, please speak with a solicitor at the earliest possible opportunity to establish your eligibility to compensation for hospital pressure sores.
How Pressure Sores Develop in Hospitals and Care Homes
Pressure sores develop due to pressure being applied to the skin for a period of time and restricting the blood supply to the skin´s subcutaneous tissues. The sores can develop over varying amounts of time depending on how much pressure is applied to the skin, allowing bacteria into the patient´s body as the skin tissues break down due to being starved of oxygen and nutrients.
Patients more than seventy years old are more vulnerable to pressure sores due to ageing of the skin – particularly when an illness compromises their immune system. Without the body´s natural defences to fight the bacteria entering through the damaged skin, many different types of infection can develop – some of which are life-threatening.
One of the most serious risks of allowing pressure sores to go untreated is blood poisoning. Blood poisoning – or septicaemia – is a medical emergency due to the condition damaging internal organs and resulting in a significant and potentially fatal fall in blood pressure. Other conditions that can develop due to untreated pressure sores include gangrene, septic arthritis, meningitis, and necrotising fasciitis.
Why Most Bed Sores are Attributable to Medical Negligence
When a solicitor is approached by a patient enquiring about making a claim for suffering from bed sores in a hospital or care home, there are three areas that the solicitor will investigate:
- Whether the bed sores were attributable to a lack of nursing care.
- Whether the bed sores could have been avoided with a more thorough risk assessment.
- Whether the bed sores were misdiagnosed as a different injury – allowing them to deteriorate.
All three scenarios are classified as medical negligence – particularly the lack of nursing care. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has produced guidelines for the care of patients to prevent pressure sores from developing. These include turning patients every 4-6 hours if they are too weak or immobile to do it themselves, and providing suitable equipment to protect the vulnerable parts of the patient´s body. If it can be established that these guidelines have not been adhered to, it will be possible to claim compensation for hospital pressure sores.
A risk assessment should be conducted on all patients entering hospital to identify potential risks to their health. In respect of a claim for suffering from bed sores in a hospital, a solicitor would look for any evidence that the patient had a medical history of diabetes, heart disease or mental illness that had gone unchronicled in the risk assessment. It might also be the case that they were in hospital for the treatment of a condition that included spinal damage, nerve damage, paralysis, dehydration, obesity or bladder problems – each of which increases the risk of developing bed sores.
If the standard of nursing care was adequate and an appropriate risk assessment was conducted, it might be the case that a hospital pressure developed due to the misdiagnosis of the sore as a different injury. The success of a claim for suffering from bed sores in a hospital or care home due to a misdiagnosis will depend on whether a competent doctor would have made a correct diagnosis “at the time and in the circumstances”. If “on the balance of probabilities” your injury should have been diagnosed as a pressure sore at the time, you will be eligible to claim compensation for hospital pressure sores from the NHS Trust or private medical facility responsible for your care.
Making a Claim for Suffering from Bed Sores in a Hospital or Care Home
Once it is established that you or a relative have suffered an avoidable injury due to medical negligence, your solicitor will commence the process for making a claim for suffering from bed sores in a hospital or care home. Usually this will involve writing a “Letter of Claim” to the NHS Trust or private medical facility responsible for your care, advising them that you are claiming compensation for hospital pressure sores and supporting the letter with the evidence of negligence.
The party against whom the claim is being made has ninety days to conduct an investigation into the allegations and respond to your solicitor´s letter. If liability for your injury is admitted, your solicitor will start settlement negotiations. If liability for your injury is contested, it may be necessary to pursue court action to have your claim for suffering from bed sores in a hospital or care home resolved. This is an unlikely scenario if your solicitor has compiled sufficiently robust evidence in support of your claim.
Interaction with a court will be necessary if you wish to claim compensation for hospital pressure sores on behalf of your child or a relative who is unable to represent themselves. This is because your application to act as a “litigation friend” has to be approved by a judge to ensure it is in the claimant´s best interest. The settlement of compensation for hospital pressure sores will also have to be approved by a judge to ensure it is appropriate in relation to the level of injury suffered and the consequences of the injury.
How Settlements of Compensation for Hospital Pressure Sores are Calculated
Settlements of compensation for hospital pressure sores are calculated taking into consideration four primary factors – the level of physical injury and whether the patient will recover from the injury, the consequences that the injury will have on the patient´s ongoing quality of life, the emotional trauma that has been experienced by the patient, and the financial consequences of the injury. The level of physical injury is categorised into four stages:
- The first stage of a pressure sore injury is difficult to detect. Usually there will be a slight change of colour surrounding the damaged area and it will feel warmer to touch. Generally a patient would be expected to make a full recovery from a Stage 1 pressure sore.
- When a bed sore reaches the second stage, damage to the skin can be clearly seen by the formation of a shallow crater, an ulcer or a blister. Stage 2 bed sores can be misdiagnosed as abrasions and a patient´s recovery may be influenced by their general state of health.
- By the third stage of a pressure sore, the skin is ulcerated and the wound is open – exposing underlying soft tissues and muscles to bacteria. A Stage 3 pressure sore will likely lead to the development of an infection and the prognosis for a recovery is only fair.
- Stage 4 bed sores demonstrate gross negligence by the medical professionals that have allowed them to develop. By this stage, many of the muscles, joints, tendons, nerves and bones beneath the open sore will have been permanently damaged and a recovery is unlikely.
How much compensation for hospital pressure sores the claim will be settled for in relation to your past and future pain and suffering will be assessed by a medical expert engaged by your solicitor. Your solicitor will determine with your help the consequences of your injury to your quality of life; and, if these consequences include making a compensation claim for an emotional trauma, your level of psychological injury will be assessed by a psychologist.
The financial consequences of your injury will be assessed by a forensic accountant. He or she will take into account any loss of income, healthcare expenses or other costs you have incurred so that your financial position when your claim is settled in no worse than it would have been if you or a relative had received the standard of care you were entitled to while a patient in hospital.
Speak with a Solicitor about Injuries due to Pressure Sores in Hospital
In 2013, the NHS Litigation Authority reported it had paid more than £16 million compensation for hospital pressure sores in the previous ten years to 706 patients who had made a claim for suffering from bed sores in a hospital. It is likely that many more claims for compensation were made against private medical facilities. It is important to note that no two claims for compensation for hospital pressure sores are the same – even when the stage of injury and prognosis for recovery are the same.
Consequently, it is in your best interests to discuss the nature of your injury – or an injury sustained by a relative – with a solicitor at the earliest possible opportunity. This will allow your solicitor to establish your eligibility to compensation for hospital pressure sores while evidence of negligence is still recent and enhance the likelihood of a successful claim for suffering from bed sores in a hospital.