LEGAL EAGLE: Dealing with medical complaints

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My elderly mother was in hospital for a routine knee replacement operation. The operation went very well but she ended up staying in far longer than she was expecting as she developed pressure sores on her heels and at the bottom of her back.

The wounds now need to be regularly dressed and she has been told it may be many months before the wounds are likely to heal during which time she needs regular visits from district nurses. We also understand that she is likely to be left with scarring. What 
are pressure sores and is there anything we can do ?

Pressure sores develop when the blood supply does not get to an area of skin that is not relieved from pressure.

Heels and the base of the back are particularly vulnerable. Generally pressure sores can be avoided by adequate nursing care including a detailed assessment of the patient, pressure relieving equipment such as air mattresses, regular reviews and positional changes.

Sometimes pressure injuries can be unavoidable but this is quite rare. Many hospitals now have a tissue viability nurse whose job it is to look out for signs of pressure sores and take appropriate action.

Pressure sores can be very nasty and, as in your mother’s case, can lead to delayed recovery and scarring.

If you are concerned about what has happened then you should consider making a formal complaint to the Hospital under the NHS complaints procedure. This should provide a detailed explanation as to how the pressure sores developed. Complaints should be made as soon as possible but can be made up to 12 months after the treatment in hospital was concluded. You can obtain help with complaints if needed from a solicitor or the Independent Complaints Advocacy Service

Your mother may also be entitled to bring a claim for compensation if she can establish that the nursing care she received was below an acceptable standard and she can show that it was the poor standard of that care that brought about the pressure sores in the first instance.

Please bear in mind that you generally only have three years from the date of the treatment complained of to start court proceedings.

Contact a solicitor who is accredited by the Law Society or AvMA for undertaking Clinical/Medical negligence. If you do wish to make a claim you should not delay in contacting a solicitor as it can take a very long time to get the evidence necessary to advise whether things should have been done differently.