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What are pressure sores and can you make a medical negligence claim?

Pressure sores, also known as pressure ulcers and bed sores, are wounds which can be open or closed. They are most common with the elderly and those with limited mobility as immobility cuts off the blood supply to particular areas of the body.

Pressure sores can develop easily and can be incredibly difficult to treat. Common places for pressure sores to develop include the sacrum (towards the bottom of your spine), the buttocks, ankles, heels and elbows. With the right care, most pressure sores can be avoided.

Improving understanding and awareness of pressure sores may save you or a loved one from suffering preventable pain.

What are the different pressure sore symptoms?

An unstageable sore will need tissue to be removed to determine the depth of the wound. This is known as debridement. This is because the base of the bed sore or pressure sore is obscured by tissue (often dead cells). When enough tissue is removed, the sore may then be graded.

Pressure sores are categorised into one of four grades, depending on the severity of damage. Here are the different signs of pressure sores to look out for and what symptoms exist in each grade:

Grade 1

  • Symptoms: Discoloured skin (often red); not an open wound; sore to touch; temperature of the skin may be different to the surrounding areas
  • Healing time: Up to three days
  • Treatment: Remove pressure from the area; keep the area clean and dry

Grade 2

  • Symptoms: Similar appearance to a blister as it breaks through the top layer of skin; surrounding areas can be red and sore; may drain fluid; painful
  • Healing time: Up to three weeks
  • Treatment: Remove pressure from the area; seek medical attention; wound may need to be dressed; keep the area clean and dry

Grade 3

  • Symptoms: Broken through the top two layers of skin; redness; foul smell; infection
  • Healing time: Up to four months
  • Treatment: Seek medical attention immediately; you may require antibiotics; your doctor may remove some dead tissue to prevent infection; a special mattress may be recommended to relieve pressure

Grade 4

  • Symptoms: Can extend into muscle, tendon, ligaments and bone; extremely painful; easily infected; you may notice some skin turn black
  • Healing time: Up to two years
  • Treatment: Seek urgent treatment; you may require a hospital admission and surgery

Watch our video guide to pressure sores

What guidelines are in place to prevent bed sores?

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) provides guidance to assist healthcare professionals in managing and preventing pressure sores.

The guidance includes:

  • Completing a pressure sore risk assessment within the first six hours of care, using a validated scale such as a Waterlow score.
  • Reassessing the risk if there are any clinical changes, such as a change in mobility.
  • Encouraging patients to reposition regularly.
  • Regular turning of patients who are unable to reposition themselves.

Can you make a medical negligence claim for pressure sores?

If you believe you or your loved one is at risk of developing pressure sores and feel that more could be done to prevent them, challenge the care being given whether this is in a care home or in a hospital.

If the healthcare professional fails to observe these measures and you or your loved one develop pressure sores as a result, you may be able to make a claim for compensation.

If you believe that you or your loved one has suffered an avoidable pressure sore, contact our team of expert medical negligence solicitors for free and confidential advice to find out if you can make a no win no fee compensation claim.

Advice blog by Michelle Nurse, Solicitor in the Clinical Negligence team at Hudgell Solicitors

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