Staff shortages blamed as bed sores cause '˜preventable' deaths

Bedsores have contributed to the deaths of more than 200 Scots in the past five years amid fears that staffing shortages are impacting on care of elderly patients.

Pressure ulcers were listed on the death certificates of about 220 people from 2011 to 2015. Photograph: Getty Images
Pressure ulcers were listed on the death certificates of about 220 people from 2011 to 2015. Photograph: Getty Images

An investigation by Scotland on Sunday found that at least 21 people died as a direct result of the painful sores between 2011 and 2015, although the true total is feared to be much higher as some figures were obscured to protect a patient’s identity.

Pressure ulcers were listed on the death certificates of around 220 people during the same period, according to freedom of information requests to all Scottish health boards.

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Patient groups expressed outrage that people were still dying needlessly from the condition, which was prevalent in Victorian times.

Experts believe staffing shortages could be to blame for the largely preventable sores, as stretched nurses struggle to cope with rising numbers of elderly patients on the wards.

Margaret Watt, of the Scotland Patients Association, said: “These bedsores or any kind of sores simply should not exist in our hospitals in this day and age. The fact that we are short of staff and the pressure our existing staff are under plays an important part.

“Staff are running up and down corridors and trying to keep up with three or four patients at once. We have got to sort this out. You go into hospital to get better rather than to get worse.”

More than 8,700 people have been treated for pressure sores since 2011, despite attempts to rid the health service of the problem.

The painful ulcers occur when bedridden people cannot move around, causing pressure to be concentrated on an area of skin.

This disrupts the blood flow to skin, depriving the tissue of oxygen and causing an ulcer. If the sore becomes infected then it can cause deadly blood poisoning.

Some of the patients may have come into hospitals with bedsores they acquired in a care home or in their own house.

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said: “Bedsores are a wholly preventable condition.

“The fact that we are still seeing patients dying as a result of bed sores is a huge concern.

“Nurses are on their feet for long shifts and do their utmost to ensure that patients get the help they need. The fact that thousands of people in hospital are getting pressure sores suggests that they are overstretched and need extra support.”

The latest NHS data shows there were more than 2,200 nursing and midwifery vacancies in March, a figure which has doubled since 2012.

Regular inspections and a major drive to improve patient safety have been brought in to tackle the issue.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Pressure ulcers are unacceptable in a modern healthcare system, but are difficult to eradicate.

“That is why, with the NHS we are working to make improvements in both prevention and treatment.

“The drive to improve patient safety has led to, among other things, a 19 per cent reduction in the number of deaths from sepsis, which can be caused by bed sores.

“We also introduced regular, unannounced inspections to drive improvement in the care of older people in hospital, where pressure area care is a key focus.

“NHS Scotland staffing is now at a record high level, with almost 11,400 more staff being recruited under this government, including over 2,300 more qualified nurses and midwives and over 2,500 more doctors.”