MRSA, or Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a type of bacteria that has built up resistance to antibiotics and is also called a superbug. When contracted by people, it can cause various infections, from relatively minor to life-threatening heart, lung and blood complications.
Most MRSA infections occur in people who have been in hospitals or other care settings, such as nursing homes. Some of the most common signs of an invasive infection include fever, muscular pain, dizziness, confusion and rapid heart rate.
If you or a loved one has contracted MRSA due to substandard hygiene standards in a hospital or care home, you could be entitled to begin an MRSA claim. If your case has merit, your solicitor will offer you a no win no fee service and help you gather the evidence you need to support your claim.
What is MRSA?
MRSA is short for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a type of bacteria that is resistant to several widely used antibiotics. This makes an MRSA infection more difficult to treat, which can allow it to spread and sometimes become life-threatening.
Different varieties of staph bacteria are normally found on the skin or in the nose of about 1 in 30 individuals. The bacteria are generally harmless in healthy people, even if they enter the body through a cut or other wound.
Nonetheless, decades of unnecessary and reckless antibiotic use prescribed for colds, flu and other viral infections have contributed to the rise of MRSA. In England, a total of 846 cases of MRSA were reported by acute NHS Trusts between 1 April 2017 and 31 March 2018. The rate of yearly cases has fallen from 8.6 per 100,000 people in 2007/2008 to 1.5 per 100,000 people in 2017/2018.
MRSA infections commonly affect hospitalised people, especially if they have a health problem that weakens their immune system or broken skin. Once the bacteria enter the bloodstream, they can cause severe infections in different parts of the body, such as the bones, heart or lungs.
You can also get MRSA on your skin by touching someone who has it or a surface or object that has the bacteria on them. There are some simple things you can do to prevent getting or spreading MRSA:
- Wash your hands often, for at least 20 seconds or use hand wipes or sanitiser, especially before and after eating and going to the toilet;
- Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, clothing or razors;
- Keep cuts and other wounds clean and covered until they have healed;
- Shower immediately after any athletic activities;
- Follow any advice you have been given about wound care;
- If you suspect you might have an infection, get early medical care;
- If you are staying in the hospital, report any unclean facilities to the staff.
If your infection resulted from substandard care or negligence, you might be entitled to make an MRSA claim against the hospital that treated you.
Can I make an MRSA claim?
An MRSA infection can be very serious, and a severe illness can result in life-threatening complications and death. In the UK, all medical staff have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of patients, which includes preventing an MRSA infection.
If you or a loved one developed MRSA after a hospital visit or stay, there is a high likelihood that you were infected due to substandard care or negligence. While an MRSA diagnosis is not enough to secure MRSA compensation, your solicitor will make sure you meet all the conditions necessary to claim.
As a general rule, a claim should be possible if:
- Another person owed you a duty of care to protect you from contracting MRSA
- They breached their duty by acting negligently
- You developed an MRSA infection as a result
- This caused you significant personal and financial damages
You may also be entitled to make an MRSA claim if you contracted the bacteria at work due to your employer’s failure to ensure a safe working environment. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002 state that employers must prevent or reduce exposure to harmful substances such as the MRSA bacteria by:
- Conducting regular risk assessments to identify hazards
- Provide control measures to reduce health risks
- Keep control measures in good working order
- Provide information and adequate training to employees
- When necessary, provide suitable personal protective equipment (PPE)
Claims for MRSA compensation also cover negligent treatment of a bacterial infection that caused your condition to worsen. Your solicitor will consult with a medicolegal expert to show that the care you received fell beneath the reasonable standard accepted in the field. Some examples include:
- Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of MRSA
- Undergoing surgery while the doctor was aware of your infection
- Not being given the correct medication to treat your condition
- Failure to follow relevant precautions regarding your infection
What causes MRSA infections?
MRSA lives harmlessly on the skin of around 3% of the population, called carriers, without causing any health issues. The bacteria usually causes a problem when entering the body through a wound or cut, but even so, it typically causes only minor skin problems in healthy people.
You can get MRSA on your skin from a carrier, but this will not make you ill unless it gets deeper into your body. Some common ways in which you could contract the bacteria include:
- Touching someone who has it
- Touching an object or surface that has MRSA on it
- Sharing personal items like towels, razors or clothes with a carrier
However, once the staph bacteria enters the body, it can spread to the blood, bones, joints and organs such as the lungs, heart and brain. Severe or life-threatening infections are common among those who suffer from long-term medical conditions and are in hospitals, care homes and other health care centres.
MRSA infections contracted in the hospital can be the result of:
- Being touched by someone carrying the bacteria, such as a nurse, doctor, or another patient;
- Receiving treatment with infected equipment that was not properly sterilised or disinfected;
- Invasive devices like catheters or implanted feeding tubes that were not properly cleaned;
- Failure to remove the MRSA bacteria from a person’s skin during hospitalisation.
It is also possible to contract MRSA after surgery if there is any presence of bacteria surrounding the incision or on the equipment used during the intervention. That is why it is essential to perform a screening to determine if the patient carries MRSA and take the necessary steps to remove it, such as:
- Apply an antibacterial cream inside the patient’s nose
- Change their towels, clothing and bedding daily
- Bathe the patient with antibacterial shampoo and soap
If the medical staff failed to take these steps and you developed an infection, you might be able to make an MRSA claim for negligence.
What are the symptoms of MRSA?
MRSA infections usually start as painful red, swollen bumps on the skin, similar to spider bites or pimples. These bumps can turn into painful boils that require surgical draining. The affected skin area might show the following symptoms:
- Clammy skin
- Redness, swelling and soreness
- Development of pus
- Warm to the touch
- Skin boils, impetigo and wound infections that do not heal with antibiotics
If the Methicillin-resistant staph gets into the bloodstream, they multiply and can cause severe infections in different parts of the body, including the heart, lungs, urine or bones. The symptoms of an MRSA infection differ depending on the infected body part, but some of the most common signs include:
- A high fever of 38C or above
- Muscular pain
- Aches and pains throughout the body
- Increased heart and breathing rate
- Chest pain
- Cough or shortness of breath
- Fatigue and a general ill feeling
The MRSA infection can settle anywhere in your body and cause complications such as:
- Heart valve infections
- Blood poisoning (sepsis)
- Abscesses in the spleen, kidney and spine
- Joint infections
- Breast mastitis
- Prosthetic device infections
- Flesh-eating bacterial infections leading to skin necrosis
If you suspect an MRSA infection, you should inform your doctor or other medical staff immediately. They will collect a sample from an open wound, blood, urine or sputum to test for the presence of staph bacteria. An MRSA diagnosis needs immediate medical intervention and isolation from other patients.
If you have the staph bacteria, it will also be tested to see which antibiotics it may be resistant to and which ones may be used to treat the infection. A skin infection that has not spread may only need drainage, while severe infections are harder to treat and may require taking antibiotics for a long time.
In certain circumstances, an MRSA diagnosis might allow you to file an MRSA claim against your healthcare provider. If you suspect negligence, you should contact a medical negligence solicitor as soon as possible and find out whether you are eligible for MRSA compensation.
Can I claim for contracting MRSA in hospital?
MRSA can cause mild to life-threatening illnesses if it enters the body through broken skin or medical procedures that require an invasive device. Hospitals remain the primary source of MRSA infections, and they have strict protocols for reducing the risk of contracting the bacteria, which include:
- Cover open wounds where possible to minimise the risk of bacteria entering the body
- Follow personal protective equipment and strict hygiene procedures
- Screen patients before hospitalisation or surgical interventions
- Place patients diagnosed with MRSA in isolation
- Sanitise and sterilise objects that have been in contact with MRSA
- Disinfect contaminated objects and surfaces
- Properly disposing of paper gowns and other waste that might carry the bacteria
Although these guidelines are followed in the vast majority of cases, sometimes hospitals and their staff fail to take all reasonable measures to protect the health of their patients. The failure of staff in these facilities to follow basic prevention measures like washing hands or sterilising the equipment often leads to successful MRSA claims.
According to the ONS, the number of UK death certificates mentioning Staphylococcus aureus, including those resistant to methicillin, was 557 in 2012, a 13% decrease from the previous year. Of these, 87% of MRSA deaths occurred in NHS hospitals, representing 0.2% of all deaths in NHS facilities. Generally, care homes have the second highest number of deaths involving MRSA.
If you developed an MRSA infection after a hospital visit or stay, there is a high possibility that you contracted the bacteria due to negligence. While a diagnosis is not enough to make a successful MRSA compensation claim, your solicitor will work to prove that you were a victim of medical negligence.
How do I prove my MRSA was caused by medical negligence?
To make a successful MRSA claim, you need proof that you contracted the bacteria from a hospital or that the medical staff failed to recognise or properly treat your infection. Your odds of winning MRSA compensation are high if you can show some or all of the following:
- You have been screened as MRSA negative before admission to the hospital, but you developed signs of infection during or after your visit;
- The staff did not follow proper hygiene measures during your stay;
- You showed signs of infection upon admission, but you did not receive a proper diagnosis and immediate treatment;
- You were not informed about the risk of infection before consenting to surgery;
- You received inappropriate treatment for an open wound or another condition that may have put you at risk for infection;
- You came into contact with another patient who received an MRSA diagnosis;
Gathering the following can help you make a successful MRSA compensation claim:
- Photographs of any visible injuries showing signs of MRSA infection;
- Pictures of the hygiene standards in the hospital or clinic you visited, such as dirty linen and surfaces or dead space left to collect bacteria;
- Contact details of any witnesses to the substandard treatment you received or the poor hygiene standards in the hospital;
- All the details regarding your illness, including medical reports and your own notes about what happened;
- Proof of expenses incurred during recovery, such as loss of income, travel expenses, prescriptions or childcare costs.
Your solicitor will work hard to prove that you were treated negligently and consult with independent medical experts to gather evidence for your MRSA claim. They will try to achieve this by showing the following:
A duty of care
As a given, hospitals and health care practitioners owe patients a duty of care. This is an obligation to provide the same level of care as a knowledgeable and skilled practitioner with the same level of training would in the same situation.
A breach of duty
A breach of duty means that the medical staff failed to provide the reasonable standard of care expected from them. For instance, they may not have followed the strict hygiene measures dictated by the MRSA protocols or failed to recognise the early signs of a bacterial infection.
To make a successful MRSA claim, it is not enough to show that the hospital staff breached their duty of care towards you. Your solicitor will gather all the evidence necessary to prove a direct link between the actions of a healthcare provider and your infection.
In an MRSA claim, the purpose is to recover compensation for the physical, emotional and financial losses you incurred due to medical negligence. This is why you need proof of the damages the infection caused you, such as medical bills, lost wages, and the pain and suffering you endured.
Can I make an MRSA compensation claim on behalf of somebody else?
According to UK law, you are entitled to act as a litigation friend in an MRSA claim on behalf of:
A child under 18
Children are not considered to possess an adult’s well-formed judgement, so they cannot use a solicitor to pursue MRSA compensation. Instead, they will need an adult, such as a parent, guardian or family member to conduct legal proceedings on their behalf.
While litigation friends can secure compensation on behalf of a child, they cannot access any of the money awarded to the victim. Instead, they will be transferred into a court bank account and released to the child once they turn 18. Alternatively, your solicitor could help you set up a personal injury trust in their name.
A protected party
An adult who does not possess the mental capacity to claim themselves is considered a protected party. According to the Mental Capacity Act 2005, you could bring an MRSA claim on behalf of someone who suffers from:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- An intellectual disability such as Down syndrome
- A severe mental illness like schizophrenia
- A neurodegenerative disease such as dementia
- A traumatic brain injury or stroke
The compensation secured on behalf of a protected party needs to be approved by a judge. They will examine the available evidence to determine whether the victim has been fairly compensated.
Someone with a language barrier
You can also conduct legal proceedings in an MRSA compensation claim on behalf of someone whose first language is not English and who may have difficulties communicating with their solicitor.
A loved one who passed away
If a loved one passed away after developing an infection due to someone else’s negligence, you might be able to claim MRSA compensation. According to the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, a dependant of the victim can be compensated for the wrongful death of their loved one.
Becoming a litigation friend can be a long-term commitment that brings several responsibilities, such as:
- Approve and sign legal documents
- Pay any fees requested by the court
- Meet with your solicitor and take legal advice
- Always have the victim’s best interests in mind
- Carefully consider any MRSA compensation offers
- Attend court hearings
- Keep updated on proceedings
If you want to make an MRSA compensation claim on behalf of someone else, enter your details into our online claim form or call 0800 678 1410 to speak to a legal adviser. They will let you know if you have a valid claim and answer any questions you may have.
What is the time limit to make an MRSA claim?
The Limitation Act 1980 imposes a three-year time limit to make an MRSA claim starting from the date you first became aware that you or a loved one had contracted the bacteria. If you do not take legal action within the time limit, your case becomes statute-barred, and the court may no longer consider your claim.
There are several exceptions to the three-year time limit to claim:
- For children, the three-year time limit begins on their 18th birthday. Before that, a parent or another litigation friend could pursue MRSA compensation on their behalf at any time.
- The time limit to file an MRSA claim is suspended if the victim lacks the mental capacity to conduct legal proceedings.
- In fatal cases, the time limit to claim is three years after the death of your loved one or the date a post-mortem confirmed an MRSA infection as the cause of death.
- If you developed MRSA while receiving treatment abroad, the claim limitation date could vary significantly according to each country’s laws.
It is essential to contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible so they can begin to investigate your claim. This can take a considerable amount of time, and most solicitors will not accept a claim with less than six months left to the limitation date, even if it has merit.