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How Do Pressure Ulcers Develop?

Pressure ulcers are a known risk to patient admitted to hospital. In this article we explore exactly why this is, explaining how pressure ulcers develop, how they can be prevented, and whether medical professionals can ever be held responsible for the formation of a pressure ulcer.

Formation of pressure ulcers

When body tissues are subject to pressure and shear they become distorted and compressed. If pressure is not relieved the circulation of blood will be disrupted, starving the tissue of oxygen. The lack of blood also causes waste products to build up, further compounding the situation. The eventual result is that the tissue begins to break down and an ulcer develops. This can potentially lead to tissue necrosis, infection and septicaemia.

Preventing pressure ulcers in hospital

Patients in hospital are particularly prone to pressure ulcers. This is because many will either be subject to prolonged periods of low pressure (for example, a patient in the intensive care unit recovering from major surgery) or shorter periods of high pressure (for example, a woman in labour). The relative risk of damage depends upon a patient's position. In terms of the latter example, a woman in labour will spend a significant amount of time lying on her back and pushing. This puts the buttocks, sacrum, shoulders and head at risk of tissue damage.

However, there are guidelines in place to help prevent the occurrence of pressure sores within a healthcare setting. Medical professionals must follow these if a patient is to avoid suffering a pressure ulcer. Primarily, all hospital admissions should undergo a risk assessment within six hours of arrival. This should be reduced to two hours if a patient has impaired mobility, an altered level of consciousness or sensory impairment. If factors are identified that increase a patient's risk (such as immobility, old age, moisture on the skin and reduced sensation) then preventative measures should be put in place. This will include providing pressure relieving equipment, frequently repositioning the patient and assessing the patient's skin on a regular basis.

Negligent prevention of pressure ulcers

If medical professionals do not follow the clinical guidelines set out by their NHS Trust, they will have failed to provide a reasonable level of medical treatment. If a patient consequently develops a pressure sore, their injury will be attributed to substandard care. This represents a case of medical negligence, meaning the individual concerned could be entitled to make a claim for compensation.

If you or a loved one has suffered a pressure sore in hospital which you believe could have been prevented, you need to speak to a medical negligence solicitor without delay.

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