I see quite a lot of shocking cases but I have just settled one of the worst for a while. An elderly man in his 80s was admitted to hospital after a fall and suffered a stroke which left him paralysed down one side. Whilst in hospital he developed pressures ulcers on both feet. They became so bad that he had to have his right leg amputated above the knee. However by then infection from the pressure sores had caused significant damage and after about 3 months he died. Had he not died he would also have undergone a left leg amputation above the knee.
When I met him at his home just after the amputation, he was immobile and in a large amount of pain. He had periods in and out of consciousness but spent his waking hours watching the squirrels in his garden. His family had set up a plank on which they put nuts outside his window. One of his few remaining pleasures was watching them run along the plank and feed.
The whole situation was an avoidable tragedy. In the vast majority of patients good nursing care should prevent anyone developing pressure sores. The key is assessment and then proper care. All patients should be assessed for the risk of developing pressure sores on admission to hospital. Patients like this man – elderly and immobile from a stroke – are at high risk. Assessment must take place quickly. Pressure ulcers can develop within 2 hours. Sometimes they develop as people are waiting on trolleys in Accident and Emergency. There are then simple steps which can avoid patients at risk developing sores. These include providing pressure-relieving mattresses and other devices as well as turning them regularly.
Despite all the technical advances in medicine over the years, this is one area where standards have often fallen. Busy nurses on poorly staffed wards may simply not get round to paying attention to what may seem like a minor task of moving a patient. In some hospitals staff morale is low and poorly motivated agency nurses may simply not give patients the attention they need. However the results can be catastrophic. The elderly man whose claim I have just settled may be one of the worst example I have come across recently but I am alarmed at quite how many cases I see for people who have spent their last months disabled and in pain because of avoidable pressure sores.Paul Sankey is a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence. If you or a member of your family have a clinical negligence enquiry please call our expert clinical negligence solicitors on 0800 916 9049, or email email@example.com and one of our specialist clinical negligence team will be in touch.