Why pressure ulcers are a patient safety issue

  • Posted on 27.02.2013

Why pressure ulcers are a patient safety issue


Hans Lundgren

Head of Public & Governmental Affairs, Wound Care Division, Mölnlycke Health Care

Patient safety

How many of us have elderly friends and relatives who have spent time in various healthcare settings? Were you aware of the risks associated with that care? Did you know whether your loved one was risk-assessed or properly repositioned to prevent the development of a pressure ulcer?

Chances are you were not aware of this common adverse event which impacts around 1 in 5 patients. Pressure ulcers are a painful, preventable wound often occurring in patients with reduced mobility receiving long-term care. These ulcers result due to damage to the skin from limited movement and can expand into the muscle, tendon and bone. This type of ulcer is at risk of deep infection, threatening the life of the patient and significantly extending hospital stays and delaying recovery.

Though preventable, pressure ulcers remain an ongoing problem in numerous healthcare settings and will continue to affect a growing number of patients as the population in Europe ages. However, minimal attention is given to pressure ulcers when policymakers discuss patient safety issues. This is often because of the lack of data on wounds, lack of knowledge regarding wound treatment and lack of training for healthcare professionals in wound care. Together, the absence of these variables contributes to low levels of knowledge on the impacts of pressure ulcers on patients and systems. However this is no small problem – just in Ireland, for example, one extreme patient with three grade IV pressure ulcers needed 129 days of inpatient treatment at a daily cost of €923 and a total cost of €119,094 (i).

While the European Commission has continued to take significant steps towards encouraging greater patient safety in healthcare systems throughout Europe, pressure ulcers have yet to be included in this debate. We still do not know how many countries include the prevention of wounds (specifically pressure ulcers) as part of the patient safety strategy or policy. Or how much research is being dedicated to pressure ulcer prevalence and cost to health systems. Are the risks for pressure ulcers discussed by professionals or are there reporting systems for pressure ulcers in place? Many of these questions go unanswered.

As Member States consider the next steps for patient safety at EU level and the European Parliament reviews the Commission’s report on European Commission report to the Council on the basis of Member States; report on the implementation of the Council Recommendations on patient safety including the prevention and control of healthcare associated infections (2009), I believe it is imperative that the prevention or pressure ulcers is recognised as a patient safety issue. Only then will there be a focus on reducing this preventable wound across Europe.

– Hans Lundgren, Head of Public and Governmental Affairs, Wound care division,  Molnlycke Health Care

(i) Posnett, J. et al. The resource impact of wounds on health-care providers in Europe. Journal of Wound Care 2009, 18:4, 154-161.

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