The UK’s Pressure Sore Problem and Need for Prevention


Posted on: 05 August 2016 by Jose Calvo

The number of individuals over age 65 continues to rise within the UK, predicted to constitute 26% of the total population by the year 2065. The increase of older individuals puts a strain on public spending related to the NHS, but more importantly causes growing concern over the quality of care provided to patients within and outside care homes throughout the country. One of the glaring issues within the elderly population is the occurrence of pressure ulcers, also known as pressure sores.

Within the UK alone, more than 700,000 individuals suffer from pressure ulcers each year, making the condition one of the most widespread throughout the NHS. According to a report published by the national health system, one in 10 individuals housed within a care facility face the agony of a pressure ulcer, and nearly 412,000 are expected to develop the condition each and every year. With the cost of treatment adding to the cost of care by £4,000 per patient, recognising pressure ulcers as a serious problem among the country’s elderly and subsequently developing sound solutions to prevention is a necessity.

Pressure Ulcers Defined

When patients are immobile for an extended period of time, pressure ulcers occur. These wounds develop as a result of disrupted blood flow throughout the skin, which takes place due to a lack of oxygen and necessary nutrients that ultimately leads to skin breakdown. For most, pressure ulcers develop on the body where little to no body fat is present that have direct contact with a bed or chair, such as the elbows, heels, shoulders, neck or ankles. Individuals are most vulnerable to experience pressure ulcers as they age, because the skin is already in a fragile state.

There are four distinct grades of pressure sores, including:

·         Grade 1: a reddening or bruising of the outer layer of skin occurs

·         Grade 2: the skin breaks due to ulceration, affecting the deep dermis

·         Grade 3: a large break in the skin occurs that reaches below the deepest layer of the skin

·         Grade 4: the ulceration is extreme enough to wear away the skin and in some cases the underlying muscle. The most severe pressure ulcers can result in life-threatening infections and severe health complications.

According to the Office of National Statistics, pressure ulcers were a contributing factor in the death of some 540 hospital patients as well as 227 patients within care homes in 2011 alone. Although pressure ulcers do not always lead to a fatality, the condition presents as incredibly painful, rendering individuals less mobile over time. Individuals who are at risk of developing pressure ulcers should be moved or turned on a regular basis by caregivers, and placed on special mattresses designed to help with immobility issues. As simple as the perceived solution to pressure sores may be, the data suggests that neglectful care is taking place at an alarming rate.

Taking Action against Neglectful Caregiving

The persistence of the pressure ulcer issue in the UK is concerning given that the majority of cases – up to 95 per cent - are avoidable, which draws a clear line to the inefficiencies in caregiving. Neglectful care providers within care facilities, homes and hospitals often lack the appropriate level of training necessary to quickly identify and treat pressure ulcers, and the systems put in place to care for the elderly are drastically under staffed. Some reports speak to the fact that some care givers have little regard for the well-being of elderly patients, and therefore contribute to the occurrence of pressure ulcers by not tending to individuals on a consistent or thorough basis.

Given the high number of pressure ulcers plaguing older individuals, the NHS has developed a claim filing procedure to enable reporting surrounding concerns. Filing a complaint related to pressure ulcers or other neglect in care is done by submitting, in writing, the issue of concern within 12 months of the incident, although some exceptions to the time period are made on a case by case basis. There is no time frame defined by the NHS for how long it takes to process a claim from the time it is introduced into the complaint system, however.

In addition to filing a complaint regarding negligent care through the NHS, some individuals may seek out compensation for the loss of life or quality of living by filing a legal claim against the organisation or caregiver. According to a team of medical negligence solicitors, Patient Claim Line, pressure ulcers are one of the most common claims from family members in relation to care of the elderly. Knowing that between 80 and 95 per cent of all pressure ulcers are completely avoidable when appropriate patient care is provided, it is no surprise that negligence claims relating to pressure ulcers are at the top of the common claims list.

Fortunately, individuals are not required to utilise the NHS complaint system prior to starting down the path of legal recourse, but it can be useful in determining what took place. Additional information about the degree of care given to a patient assists with knowing whether or not a negligence case should be pursued. It is important to obtain legal advice early in the process, however, and doing so does not typically delay the processing of a complaint through the NHS.


Although pressure ulcers are an obvious issue within the UK as well as on a global scale, prevention methods exist. First and foremost, national health care systems should provide adequate training on common issues that plague elderly patients and how to identify and effectively treat conditions as they arise. With pressure ulcers, regular repositioning of otherwise immobile patients is beneficial, as is regular cleaning of the skin. In addition to training, specially designed equipment that works to relieve pressure of immobile patients is a must. Beds, accessories and seat cushions are readily available to assist with the prevention of pressure ulcers among elderly patients. The combination of enhanced training, a caring staff and specialised equipment used in care facilities can help combat the persistence of the pressure ulcer problem within the UK.

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