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NHS litigation bill for pressure ulcers soars 53% in three years

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Pressure ulcers cost the NHS more than £20m in litigation last year, show new figures that reveal the number of claims has increased sharply in recent years.

The figures, obtained via a Freedom of Inquest submitted to NHS Resolution, show claims against trusts related to pressure ulcers increased by 43% in the three years up to 2017-18.

“We believe that we have game-changer technology available now in the UK”

Martin Burns

The number of cases went up from 279 in 2014-15 to 399 in 2017-18 while the bill to the NHS increased 53% from more than £13.6m to over £20.8m.

In all a total of more than £72.4m was spent on pressure ulcer claims over that period, show the figures obtained on behalf of medical tech company Bruin Biometrics.

A breakdown of claims for different specialities in 2017-18 shows claims related to district nursing represented the third highest cost to the NHS – at more than £2.8m - after orthopaedics at more than £4.5m and general medicine at nearly £4.3m.

The figures were revealed by Bruin Biometrics on the same day it was announced the company’s ground-breaking scanner, designed to detect ulcers before they can be seen by the naked eye, received recognition in the form of a Medtech Innovation Briefing (MIB).

MIBs, which form part of the official advice and guidance provided by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), are commissioned by NHS England to provide information about new medical devices.

They describe the technology, how it is used, summarise research evidence and set out the likely costs.

The SEM (sub-epidural moisture) Scanner, which was the brainchild of a US nurse, is a hand-held device designed to detect skin damage and help nurses take early action to prevent pressure ulcers.

At a cost of £5,835 each – not including VAT – the scanners represent a significant investment for trusts.

However, those behind the device suggest it could save the NHS billions each year by preventing ulcers developing or getting worse.

“This is such an important issue that is not always front of mind”

Karen Ousey

According to the briefing, the average cost of treating ulcers ranges from around £1,200 for a grade 1 ulcer up to more than £14,000 for the most serious grade 4 pressure ulcers.

It states the cost of using the scanner is around £1.50 per day per patient. This compares with a daily cost of about £40 to £60 for ulcers that heal normally with no complications.

Described as a “game changer” in the field of tissue viability, the technology has been successfully trialled by NHS trusts and in 2016 was adopted by independent healthcare firm Virgin Care after a pilot at a community hospital led to a dramatic reduction in pressure ulcers.

More recently the Marie Curie Hospice in Newcastle became the first to use the scanner in a hospice setting, starting with a six-month trial in November 2017, which helped reduce pressure ulcers by nearly 50%.

NHS organisations that have tested the scanner include the Isle of Wight Trust, which trialled the device in 2017.

Glenn Smith, who spearheaded the trial when working as tissue viability and nutrition senior clinical nurse specialist at the trust, was one of the expert advisers contacted by NICE.

Now working as a nurse prescriber at St Helens Medical Centre on the island, he said the MIB highlighted the scanner’s potential.

“This review from NICE, which is one of the highest health technology assessments, now supports the fact that the SEM Scanner could be a frontline technology that could transform how we care for patients at risk of pressure ulcers,” he said.

“The SEM Scanner could transform how we care for patients at risk of pressure ulcers”

Glenn Smith

Nurse and tissue viability expert Professor Karen Ousey, director of the Institute of Skin Integrity and Infection Prevention at the University of Huddersfield, also welcomed the development.

“I’m delighted to hear that a MIB has been issued by NICE on the SEM Scanner in support of the prevention of pressure ulcers,” she said.

“This is such an important issue that is not always front of mind so it is pleasing to see the challenges of pressure ulcer prevention being addressed,” Professor Ousey added.

United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust

Exclusive: Technology may transform ulcer care, says nurse

Source: Bruin Biometrics

The SEM Scanner

Bruin Biometrics chief executive Martin Burns hoped the information provided by the MIB would encourage health and social care commissioners and staff to consider the scanner.

“Where we have seen our SEM Scanner in use, the results have been dramatic,” he said. “This briefing will help avoid the need for organisations to produce similar information locally, saving staff time and resources.

“When you consider that the average prevention cost of using the SEM Scanner works out at just £1.50 per patient per day, we believe that we have game-changer technology available now in the UK,” he added.

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