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If you have been through a Spinal Injury Centre then you will almost certainly have seen pictures of horrific pressure sores, probably shown to you by the medical staff as part of the patient education programme. People with spinal cord injuries know only too well the terrible long term consequences of these conditions. So why is it that pressure sores are still occurring in hospitals, leading to devastating life time consequences for those who are already having to come to terms with living with a spinal cord injury?

Felicity (not her real name) was seriously injured in a road traffic accident. She sustained injury to both the cervical and thoracic spine. Fortunately the cervical injury did not cause any spinal cord damage; however the thoracic injury left her with a complete spinal cord injury at T8/9. As a young, fit woman Felicity should have been able to rehabilitate fully, and she should now be living an independent life. However sadly this has not been possible, due to substandard nursing care when she was admitted to hospital.

The first two hospitals that Felicity attended failed to follow any pressure sore prevention strategies but instead left her lying on her back for days. It is therefore unsurprising that she developed sacral sores that prevented her from having surgery to stabilise her spine. They also led to months of bed rest and various failed operations to close the sore, combined with infections. Even after she could commence rehab this was punctuated by intervals of bed rest as the fragile skin kept breaking down. Also her rehab was severely curtailed because the delicacy of her skin meant that she was unable to transfer herself for fear of damaging the skin. All her transfers have to be carried out using an hoist, which requires two carers to operate it.

Instead of the usual six to nine months rehab period, for a healthy young paraplegic, Felicity spent very nearly three years in hospital. At the end of that period she was finally discharged with a full care package. It was recognised that she was never going to be able to manage her personal care independently, because of the susceptibility of her skin. Even now she still has periods of bed rest, because her skin marks and tears so easily.

While Felicity was at her Spinal Injury Centre she instructed Irwin Mitchell to act for her, as it was already very apparent that the effects of the poor pressure management were going to have long term effects on her lifestyle. Whilst the hospitals both admitted the substandard treatment they vehemently denied that this had affected her long term outcome. However our experience of dealing with these types of claims enabled us to instruct specialists in this field, who were able to comprehensively link the difficulties that Felicity was experiencing in her rehab with the effects of the pressure sores.

The case recently settled with Felicity receiving £1 million in compensation to reflect the devastating impact the poor treatment had on her outcome, and the additional costs that she will have for the rest of her life, because she is not able to be as independent as other paraplegics with her level of injury. However for Felicity it is not about the money. Whilst she is glad to have this, to help mitigate all the additional expenses that needing 24 hour care brings, she would far rather have her independence. 

"The spinal cord injury changed my life, but I could have lived with that. What I find so difficult is the pain and suffering I have been through and continue to experience, and the loss of my independence.”