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International Infection Prevention Week - the future is infection prevention

Posted: 18/10/2022

As clinical negligence solicitors, we know all too well the risks of infection and the importance of taking appropriate steps to minimise that risk in clinical settings and in the community.

While infection is a known risk of many procedures and can occur non-negligently, there are situations where appropriate steps have not been taken to prevent infection, or where an infection develops but is not treated appropriately, or in a timely manner. Usually, infections can be treated with antibiotics but, unfortunately, we often see cases where antibiotics have not been started promptly or the wrong type of antibiotics have been used.

International Infection Prevention Week (IIPW) is a campaign that ‘focuses attention on the importance of infection prevention in saving lives… to highlight the significance of infection prevention among healthcare professionals, administrators, legislators, and more patients benefit from safer healthcare practices and reduced threat of healthcare-associated infections’. IIPW aims to encourage and inspire the next generation of professionals to help improve infection control.

Infection control is of central importance as infection is a complication that can occur across all fields of medical specialism and in a wide range of circumstances. Sometimes the source of an infection is obvious – for example, a recent chest or urinary infection, or an operation or injury – but in other cases, the source of infection may be unknown or deep-seated.

As clinical negligence solicitors, we have conducted numerous clinical negligence claims involving the mismanagement of infection, including, but not limited to:

  • post-operative wound infections;
  • infections that have developed following injury/insect bites;
  • infective myositis (causing inflammation in the muscle);
  • septic arthritis (infection in a joint);
  • maternal infections that have developed during pregnancy or labour;
  • sepsis (the body’s reaction to an infection which is a life-threatening medical emergency).

Delays or errors in treating wounds can lead to significant deterioration in a patient’s condition, such that they require more extensive treatment as a result. We have cases where wounds have become necrotic and require debridement, when, if treated earlier, they could have been resolved with conservative treatment.

With myositis and septic arthritis, delays in treatment can lead to destruction of a joint, so that aspiration and joint replacement may be required, which can significantly impact a patient’s ongoing mobility. 

Maternal infections can affect the health of both mother and baby, and in extreme circumstances can lead to babies being born in poor condition and suffering permanent injury. There are many types of maternal infection, but one we unfortunately see quite often is when there has been a delay in providing antibiotics or inducing delivery following premature rupture of membranes. This can lead to chorioamnionitis, an infection in the placenta and amniotic fluid.   

Sepsis is when an infection triggers a chain reaction throughout the body. The infection often starts in the lung, urinary tract or gastrointestinal tract, and these infections are usually easy to treat with antibiotics if they are identified early.  However, if left untreated and sepsis develops, they can lead to devastating consequences. We often conduct cases where patients have ended up requiring intensive care support or have required amputation of limbs. We also conduct fatal sepsis cases, where the patient has sadly died.

Sarah Hibberd, a clinical negligence solicitor specialising in cases involving infection and sepsis, comments:

“The wide variety of claims that we investigate demonstrate the far-reaching impact of infection and the serious complications that can arise when negligent treatment either causes an infection to develop, or more commonly, when an infection is not diagnosed and treated promptly and effectively. 

“It is vitally important that patients are made aware of the signs and symptoms of infection, and that anyone who suspects they have an infection seeks medical assistance at the earliest opportunity. Medical professionals should then act quickly to identify whether a patient is suffering from an infection and, if so, to treat them as quickly as possible. 

“Delays in treating infection can have devastating consequences for patients and their families so we fully support the IIPW campaign to raise awareness, encourage patients and healthcare professionals to take measures to reduce the risk of infection, and to act quickly if infection is suspected. We hope that by raising awareness of infection and encouraging healthcare professionals to improve care standards, this will make treatment safer for all patients in the future.”

If you have any concerns about treatment that you or a loved one have received, please contact our specialist clinical negligence team.

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Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP

Penningtons Manches Cooper LLP is a limited liability partnership registered in England and Wales with registered number OC311575 and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority under number 419867.

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