WYE Valley Valley NHS Trust (WVT) is accused this week of having one of the highest rates of critical pressure ulcers in Britain.

The Trust says the figures behind this accusation are selective with pressure ulcer rates falling dramatically compared to last year.

Those figures, obtained under Freedom of Information, are cited by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) as showing inpatients at the Trust's hospitals developed 184 pressure ulcers over 2012-13, with more than 29 per cent of these deteriorating to levels where body fat, tendons, muscle or bone could be visible.

“Early identification and treatment should ensure that pressure ulcers do not reach the critical point,” said APIL vice president Jonathan Wheeler.

“All pressure ulcers are painful, but far too many are being allowed to develop to levels that will cause serious pain and distress and take considerable time and resource to heal,” he said.

APIL has launched a five-point plan to address the issue in hospitals and care homes and has produced a national map to compare the best and worst performing areas.

WVT countered APIL with figures showing a 79% per cent reduction in the number of category 4 pressure ulcers - the most serious - in 2013/14 compared with the previous year.

They also show an overall decrease in the number of category 3 and 4 pressure ulcers acquired by patients over the same period.

The Safety Thermometer - a measure of hospitals’ safety produced by the Care Quality Commission for all hospitals in England - shows that WVT has been lower than the national average for old and new category 2, 3 and 4 pressure ulcers for the past six months, and lower than the national average for these kinds of ulcers every month since March last year, with the exception of September 2013.

WVT provides services in community settings, and as a result, reports figures for community beds - which acute-only trusts do not have - and we also include in our figures those patients who are admitted and already have pressure ulcers.

“The difficulty with the figures produced by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers is that they are not comparing like for like,”  said Michelle Clarke, WVT Director of Nursing and Quality.

“Nevertheless, there is always more that can be done, and we strive to ensure our patients have a positive experience and receive safe, professional care through an ongoing programme to raise awareness of pressure ulcers and how to avoid them among our staff,”

Pressure ulcers are a type of injury that breaks down the skin and underlying tissue. They are caused when an area of skin is placed under pressure.

They are also sometimes known as "bedsores" or "pressure sores". 

Pressure ulcers can range in severity from patches of discoloured skin to open wounds that expose the underlying bone or muscle.

They  tend to affect people with health conditions that make it difficult to move, especially those confined to lying in a bed or sitting for prolonged periods of time.

Conditions that affect the flow of blood through the body, such as type 2 diabetes, can also make a person more vulnerable to pressure ulcers.