Hospital dehydration claims

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Paul Carvis

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A guide to making a No Win No Fee hospital dehydration claim

It is estimated that one in eight elderly care home residents admitted to hospital are suffering from dehydration through lack of fluids.

According to a study commissioned by NHS Improving Quality (now NHS England Sustainable Improvement Team), as many as 1,000 hospital patients every month may die needlessly from acute kidney injury (AKI) due to severe dehydration. 

Simple steps such as ensuring patients have enough to drink and doctors reviewing their medication would prevent them becoming ill. Dehydration claims are often a clinical negligence matter.

How do patients become dehydrated?

Dehydration occurs where a person's fluid output exceeds their fluid input. For example if patients lose fluid - through prolonged vomiting or diarrhoea, or through high fevers causing sweating - they are likely to become dehydrated if that lost fluid is not replaced. 

What are the signs and symptoms of dehydration?

A person with dehydration may display a number of symptoms; decreased urine output and a dry mouth are an early indication. Muscle cramps, nausea and light-headedness are also common signs. If dehydration is severe a patient may become confused and weak and may eventually fall into a coma.

Proper standards of care in residential homes and hospitals should ensure that these signs are noticed and treated quickly to prevent deterioration of the condition.

Although mild to moderate dehydration in older people may difficult to detect, it can be confirmed by simple tests to measure the level of sodium and other electrolytes in the blood. These should be carried out where dehydration is suspected.

How is dehydration treated?

Dehydration may be treated by simply ensuring a patient drinks plenty of fluid to replace that which has been lost. If a patient is too ill or weak to drink, fluids and electrolytes may be administered intravenously (IV) through a drip.

Care home staff and medical professionals have a duty of care to ensure that residents and patients are given sufficient fluids to prevent dehydration, or to rehydrate where the condition has already presented.

What happens if a patient's dehydration is left untreated?

Dehydration may lead to high concentrations of sodium in the blood, a condition known as hypernatraemia.  Some drugs and hormonal conditions may also increase the level of sodium in the blood.

Patients may develop a condition known as acute kidney injury (AKI).  Known as "the silent killer" it may go unnoticed by medical staff. AKI causes a loss of kidney function and can progress very quickly. 

Although older people are particularly vulnerable, younger patients may also be affected, with one in 25 of all hospital inpatients under the age of 40 developing the condition.

Patients who survive AKI may be left with permanent health problems and the risk of developing chronic kidney disease.  Around 5-10% of patients never regain full renal function, and may require lifelong dialysis or a kidney transplant. 

Can a claim be brought for medical negligence?

Whether in a care home, NHS or private hospital, keeping patients hydrated is the most basic requirement of good healthcare practice. 

If that basic care has fallen below standard and resulted in the patient becoming ill through dehydration, then a claim may be brought for medical negligence.

Understanding No Win, No Fee compensation agreements

No Win, No Fee agreements, also called Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs), comprise a crucial piece of almost all injury claims.

A CFA defines the terms and conditions between you and your injury lawyer.

The agreement details the service the solicitor will provide as well as the "success fee". This success fee is the percentage to be taken from the damages after your case is successful.

Using a Quittance solicitor, you have peace of mind knowing that there will be absolutely nothing to pay if your claim is unsuccessful and you will never be out of pocket.

What should you do next?

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