Infection prevention and control is a key priority in any healthcare setting. However, hospital acquired infections (HAIs) can still develop – either from exposure in a healthcare setting or as a result of medical surgery or treatment.

In England alone, approximately 300,000 patients a year develop a hospital acquired infection.

HAIs are a serious risk to all patients, staff and visitors. In this guide, we outline what the risks are and what to do if you develop an infection from exposure at a hospital.

What is a hospital acquired infection?

The term ‘hospital acquired infections’ covers a wide range of infections, including sepsis, MRSA and urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Not only are hospital acquired infections costly to the NHS, they also lead to greater patient discomfort and dissatisfaction.

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is often the body’s response to an infection – including pneumonia, influenza or urinary tract infections. It requires early detection and treatment if it is not to develop into something more serious.

Failure to immediately identify sepsis can result in organ failure and, in worst cases, death.

Sepsis symptoms include:

  • Swelling, pain or redness around a cut or wound
  • A very high or low temperature with skin feeling hot or cold to touch
  • Muscle pain
  • Mottled or discoloured skin
  • Not passing urine

 

What is MRSA ?

MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) is a type of bacteria that can be harder to fight off than other bacterial infections as it is resistant to many antibiotics.

It’s hard to know if you have MRSA unless you have a screening test at hospital. The bacteria can live on your skin harmlessly but if it manages to get deeper into your body it can cause infection.

Symptoms of MRSA when it’s deeper in your body include:

  • Swelling
  • Warmth
  • Pain
  • Pus

Who is most at risk of a hospital acquired infection?

There are many factors that can make patients more vulnerable to infection while in hospital.

Your age, the illness that you are in hospital for and the medical treatment you are having can all affect your chances of developing an illness in hospital you didn’t have before you went in.

What is being done to prevent patients from getting HAIs?

Most healthcare settings have strict guidelines in routine daily clinical practice to help prevent infection and enhance patient safety.

It starts at the most basic level of proper hand washing and good environmental hygiene.

Can I reduce my risk of getting a hospital acquired infection?

Something we are all too aware of, since the outbreak of COVID-19, is how important it is to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. The same goes for any other infection – including those acquired at hospital.

If you are a patient at hospital, make sure that everyone who comes into close contact with you – whether that’s a nurse or a visitor – washes their hands. 

If you notice any signs of an infection, such as redness around a wound or you have a temperature, you should report it right away.

It’s also important to take antibiotics as they have been prescribed – for the full course – even if you are feeling better as the infection could still be present.

How do infections happen?

In a healthcare facility, you are surrounded and exposed to other sick people who may have contagious infections. It is not only the patients who are infected, but also volunteers and visitors, who can unknowingly transfer germs.

Patients who have undergone surgery, or have been in intensive care, are particularly at risk of infection.

Similarly, patients who have had treatment that causes a break in their skin (e.g. drips) are also at risk of developing a hospital acquired infection as a new path for bacteria to travel is opened.

Another way a patient can acquire a hospital infection is from using a urinary catheter – a tube which drains urine from the bladder – and this is called a catheter-associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI).

What is a CAUTI?

CAUTIs are the most common types of hospital infection – with between 43 per cent and 56 per cent of UTIs acquired at hospital being associated with a urinary catheter.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Back pain
  • Pelvic discomfort
  • Shivering or shaking
  • New onset or worsening confusion

Can I make a claim if I’ve developed a hospital-acquired infection?

Yes, but we advise that you raise a complaint with the healthcare provider directly before starting a claim. We recommend that you complain in writing to someone in the organisation, and keep record of:

  • The dates and times you have spoken to someone about the complaint
  • The names of the people you have spoken to
  • The details of each discussion.

You should make your complaint within 12 months of having a HAI, and there is a three-year time limit for starting a legal claim.

If you need help with wording your complaint, we can provide you with initial advice and support. If you want to pursue an injury claim, call our specialist lawyers on 0800 0 224 224 or visit our page on hospital negligence.