How To Sue Nursing Homes

Medical Negligence In Nursing Homes

As life expectancy in the UK increases, the likelihood is that growing numbers of the public will in later life find themselves in a nursing home. Resources for home help are dwindling and middle-aged children with elderly or disabled parents are finding that nursing homes are the best option. They know that their loved ones will be cared for and have access to round the clock medical assistance should it be required. However, just as mistakes are made in hospitals, mistakes are also made in nursing homes.

Duty of care

When someone entrusts their health to a doctor, the doctor is legally bound to certain standards and procedures by a duty of care.

This duty of care requires that the doctor adheres to codes of best practice and uses only approved techniques to treat the patient. Any deviation from those standards that directly cause injury or death to the patient can be grounds on which to launch a compensation claim for medical negligence.

Equally, when an elderly or disabled person is admitted to a nursing home, the staff at the home enter into a legal contract that binds them to provide the best care possible.

A case in 2002 highlighted the potential for mistakes to be made, with terrible consequences. In this case, 28 year-old Jeanette de Bono had been admitted to a nursing home, as the result of a genetic disorder known as Rett Syndrome. On attempting to bathe Jeanette, the staff had failed to check the temperature of the bathwater and, consequently did not notice that it was too hot. Jeanette was lowered into the bath and her struggles interpreted as an epileptic fit; a common symptom of her disorder. Consequently, she suffered full body burns that robbed her of her remaining mobility and she now remains confined to a wheelchair.

Substandard care

Because those in nursing homes are especially defenceless, the standards of care should be impeccable at all times. However, there can be various reasons as to why the care might be substandard, such as inexperience, poor training or poor supervision. Despite taking these reasons into account, if a patient is adversely affected as a direct result of the actions of a member of staff, then there are very likely to be grounds for litigation.

The NHS has released a series of guidelines for relatives of those in nursing homes. These guidelines give information on how to spot the signs that may be the result of medical negligence. They include:

  • The sudden appearance of physical injuries, such as cuts, grazes, bruising and indicators of physical restraint
  • A sudden change in the patient's character, particularly signs of distress
  • The appearance of bed sores
  • Sudden or dramatic weight loss
  • Personal hygiene issues that would seem to indicate a lack of proper care

Because nursing homes are often privately funded businesses, many relatives of those in nursing homes are unsure of their rights. However, it is important to understand that the obligation to a duty of care is a legal one, whether a nursing home is publicly or privately funded.

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