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By Spencers Solicitors

  Karen Cawood    
  February 10, 2021

Hospital-acquired Infections - What causes hospital infections?

Hospital-acquired infections are caused by viral, bacterial, and fungal pathogens; the most common types are bloodstream infection (BSI), pneumonia (eg, ventilator-associated pneumonia [VAP]), urinary tract infection (UTI), and surgical site infection (SSI).

Hospital Acquired Infections

As with any type of infection, HAIs can trigger sepsis, particularly in people who are already at risks, such as those with chronic illnesses (like diabetes), who are immunocompromised (such as those taking chemotherapy or who don’t have a spleen), the very young, and the very old.

Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s often deadly response to infection. Sepsis kills and disables millions and requires early suspicion and treatment for survival.

Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly), and/or amputations.

Hospital acquired infections are those infections that were not present at the time of admittance to the hospital but were acquired during hospital care.

How do healthcare-acquired infections happen?

Anyone can get an infection, but as with certain people in the community, many people in hospital environments have a higher risk of getting an infection because of chronic illness, age, or other risk factors. And then there are added risks in hospitals and other healthcare facilities:

Concentrated exposure to germs: If you are in a healthcare facility, you’re in an environment with other sick people who may have infections that could be spread. You’re also usually exposed to more people while you’re in a healthcare facility than you might normally be (workers, volunteers, and visitors, for example), and these people could unknowingly transfer germs from patient to patient.

Invasive intervention and devices: If you have had any type of intervention that causes a break in your skin or introduces a piece of medical equipment inside your body, there’s a new path that bacteria can follow to cause an infection. The most common interventions that can cause infection include:-

Central lines (also called central venous catheters) – People who are seriously ill may be given a central line, a special type of intravenous (IV) catheter, so the nurses can effectively provide antibiotics or other medications and fluids. Usually, central lines are used in specialized units, such as the intensive care unit (ICU).

The central line is inserted into a large vein in your groin, chest, or neck. Because these special IVs are in a large vein, they can stay in place for several weeks or longer, eliminating the need to keep restarting IVs in the more delicate veins in the arm. However, a drawback is that these larger veins give more direct access to the heart, and infections can become very serious very fast.

An infection from a central line is called a central line-associated bloodstream infection, or CLABSI.

Urinary tract infections – Patients in the hospital and in long-term care facilities may have a urinary catheter – a tube inserted into the urethra, which drains urine from the bladder. An infection caused by a urinary catheter is called a catheter-associated UTI, or CAUTI. According to statistics, 75% of all UTIs in the hospital are CAUTIs, and they are the most common type of healthcare-acquired infection today.

  • Surgical site infection – If you have surgery, your wound is at risk of getting infected. The severity of the infection can range from a superficial infection in the skin around the surgical incision, to a much deeper internal infection. Surgical site infections are called SSIs.
  • Ventilator-associated pneumonia – When people are on a ventilator because they need help breathing, they are at risk for developing pneumonia, an infection in the lungs. Called ventilator-associated pneumonia, or VAP. There are many possible causes for this type of infection, including exposure of the lungs (from the tube) to bacteria that may not normally be able to reach the lungs.
  • Pressure injuries – Patients who are confined to a bed or spend extended time in a chair or wheelchair are at risk for developing a pressure injury or sore. Seniors can also have fragile skin that tears easily. These injuries can become infected, as well.

Some of the most common hospital-acquired infections or “superbugs” include:

  • MRSA (Methicilin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus)
  • C.Difficile infections (Clostridium difficile)
  • Enterococcal infections – can cause a variety of infections including urinary tract infections (UTI), endocarditis, bacteraemia and meningitis
  • Acinetobacter infections – a difficult-to-treat pathogen which can cause infections including pneumonia, urinary tract infections, meningitis, catheter-related infections and wound infections.

Have you suffered as a result of failings at a hospital and contracted a hospital-acquired infection?

When hospitals fail to follow infection control policies then patients are at risk of developing one of these conditions. If allowed to develop these infections can cause permanent injuries and can be fatal.

Early detection is crucial with hospital-acquired infections in order to prevent long term damage. You may also be able to claim compensation if a medical mistake led to a delay in the diagnosis of your infection and the start of treatment.

If the healthcare setting failed to follow hygiene procedural guidelines, such as covering open wounds and separating other patients with infections, you may be able to claim compensation.

Hospitals are neither as safe or as clean as anyone would like and the medical professions are seriously understaffed. It can be easy for infections to emerge and due to a variety of reasons they can spread extremely quickly throughout a hospital.


If you acquire an infection while under care at a hospital, the chances are that others within the same environment would have had a similar experience. While there may be one-off cases where negligence is difficult to prove, infections like MRSA and E. coli tend to affect groups of people rather than individuals. In fact, infectious diseases have caused the closure of the whole hospital wards, due to its level of spread. With patients continuously monitored and medical records constantly updated, your solicitor can help you use these when pursuing a compensation claim for hospital-acquired infection.

In some cases, you may be able to obtain evidence – verbal and/or photographic – of unhygienic practices in the hospital; this can help you prove medical negligence. If you believe you have been a victim of a hospital-acquired infection, it is best to record a timeline of events that demonstrates how and when the infection was contracted and the treatment you received. In cases where victims are seriously ill and cannot gather evidence, family members and dependents can do this on their behalf.

Hospital staff are now obliged to report serious breaches of health and hygiene under a “duty of candor”.

Now more than ever it is important that hospital facilities supply hand gel to patients, visitors, and staff


The Government has already predicted a rise in coronavirus-related medical negligence claims and has implemented new powers under the Coronavirus Act 1020 in conjunction with NHS Resolution’s new scheme solely for COVID-19 related claims.

Clauses 10 to 12 of the Act agree to provide additional indemnity coverage for any clinical negligence liabilities that may arise from the coronavirus outbreak and the special healthcare agreements that were put in place which has altered the workings of our healthcare system.

Many staff whose training was unfinished or out of date by bringing back retired clinicians, could result in inadequate care.

When assessing medical negligence claims, the “Bolam test” sets out that care provided should only be of a “reasonable” standard, being the care one would expect of a responsible body of similar healthcare providers. For example, nurses are compared to nurses doing similar roles and Junior Doctors would not be compared to more Senior Consultant in term of skill and knowledge.

The Medical Defence Union is calling for medical professionals to be granted immunity from coronavirus-related medical negligence claims and is alleging that any claims will be a drain on NHS resources and the British tax-payer. They are also attempting to say it will spare them the stress and anxiety caused by future claims.

Clinical Negligence Solicitors are vehemently against any such block on claims. If the government agrees with them this will set a precedent for lowering clinical standards indefinitely. Even in the current pandemic situation if a medical mistake is made then the injured party should still be able to claim compensation.

It is too early to say what the outcome of this is as yet as we are still at the very height of the pandemic.

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