The family of a 73-year-old man who went in for routine knee surgery and developed a fatal pressure sore have received compensation for his suffering and early death.

Mr S was in good health when he went into St George’s Hospital on 2 August 2011 for routine knee replacement surgery after being diagnosed with osteoarthritis. The surgery appeared to have gone smoothly and was described as successful as Mr S was able to walk the following day.

However, a few days after the operation Mr S’s condition deteriorated.

A pressure sore was identified on the sacral region at the bottom of his back, which initially was noted to be red and intact. Over the following days the sore became broken and inflamed and then ‘black’ and broken.

By the time Mr S was discharged on 26 August, he was suffering from a Grade 4 sore, the most severe type of pressure ulcer. This is where the skin is severely damaged and the surrounding tissue begins to die. The underlying muscles or bone may also be damaged.

A week later Mr S suffered a stroke and was re-admitted to St George’s Hospital and then transferred to St Helier Hospital but by that stage the pressure sore was infected and Mr S developed sepsis (blood infection) and deteriorated significantly. He died on 4 October 2011.

Mrs S was shocked that her husband, a previously active rugby fan, could have gone into hospital for what they were told would be a routine procedure to ‘improve his quality of life’ only to die in what she described as degrading and painful circumstances only six weeks later.

Mrs S instructed the medical negligence team at Leigh Day to investigate her husband’s treatment.

Solicitors Nicola Wainwright and Katherine Sirrell obtained independent expert evidence that aspects of the care provided by the doctors and nursing staff at St George’s had been wholly inadequate.

Lawyers for the family of Mr S argued that he had not been monitored or turned and positioned correctly to help ease the pressure on his lower back, causing the serious pressure sore to develop.

The independent medical experts brought in by Leigh Day confirmed that they believed that if an adequate system of care had been in place, the sore would not have gone on to degrade as it did and Mr S would not have developed sepsis and died.

St George’s Hospital denied most of the family’s allegations of negligence in their Defence, in which they disagreed with Leigh Day’s experts’ views and denied that they caused Mr S’s death. However, despite this they did agree to pay compensation for his pain and suffering and the family’s associated losses to his widow.

Mr S’s family felt that this settlement represented, at least, some recognition of how much Mr S had suffered, although no settlement figure could compensate them for the loss of their loved one.

St George’s Hospital confirmed that their guidelines on pressure sores had since been updated and have said that systems are now in place to ensure pressure sores are better managed.

The solicitors acting for the family, Nicola Wainwright and Katherine Sirrell from the medical negligence team at Leigh Day, said: “Mr S’s family could not believe that their husband and father was allowed to develop a serious pressure sore and sepsis after what should have been a straight forward procedure whilst under the care of a London teaching hospital and we can understand why they were shocked.

“Our expert was clear that in her view such a Grade 4 sore should not develop if a patient is receiving appropriate care.

"It is hoped that St George’s Hospital will learn from what happened to Mr S and the changes they have made will avoid another patient suffering as he did.”