Infections acquired in Hospital are of course not a new phenomenon, but what has come to the fore in recent years are the serious risks posed to health by antibiotic resistant strains.
These include the now infamous Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile. Arguably there is a greater potential for such Superbug infections on account of greater international travel these days, more frequent transplants and generally more invasive procedures.
How was the infection caused
The great difficulty in pursuing a successful claim is addressing the so called “Causation” problem. In other words, one needs to establish that the infection was contracted as a result of Negligence on the hospital’s part rather than merely by way of non-Negligent means such as a visitor passing an infection to a patient or the infection pre-existing even before the patient was admitted to the Hospital. Now that Screening pre-Elective Procedures is routine, it is easier to establish whether the infection occurred after an operation and, therefore, was inevitably contracted in the Hospital.
So the patient needs to show that the relevant Hospital treatment received was below any acceptable standard and would not have been supported by any responsible body of Medical Practitioners.
Establishing a claim
To establish a successful claim, what evidence would need to be considered? Relevant matters would include, for example, breaches of Infection Control Policies (or other System Failures), such as poor Ward hygiene. Was there a failure to screen for infection eg in a Burns Unit or other high risk areas? Was there a failure to isolate those infected (bearing in mind practical realities such as limited numbers of side rooms). Was there a failure to close Wards during an outbreak leading to unnecessary exposure?
One gathers that the simple fact of an infection is not going to get one past the finishing line, legally as it were.
Various documents can be relied upon and sought from the Hospital Trust. These would include the Department of Health’s published Guidance and Codes of Practice. Enlightenment may also be provided by the Trust’s Standards on Outbreaks, Infection Surveillance Programmes, Cleaning Protocols, Policies in relation to Disposables, Internal Reviews, Untoward Incident Reports, Communications to the Staff and Press etc.
More specific documents which may provide relevant evidence would be notes made by the Infection Control Nurse and Committee Minutes, Lists of Patients affected and, of course, the essential Microbiological Notes. Obviously the Causative infection must be a type which is known to be prevalent in hospitals.
Code of practice
The Code of Practice for the Prevention and Control of Infections sets out criteria which can be used to judge whether a Hospital Trust is complying with the Law. These criteria include matters of common sense, such as the maintenance of a clean environment; the use of Risk Assessments to address individuals’ susceptibility as well as the immediate environment; adequate isolation of patients and access to laboratory support; the provision of appropriate information to hospital users and systems to monitor, promptly identify and treat infections. The Hospital Workers should be suitably educated and themselves not be sources of transmission of infection.
Witnesses such as the patients’ family and visitors may be particularly helpful if they are able to recount untoward practices such as inappropriate communal bathing, the non-disposal of soiled bandages and the like.