Diabetes is the leading non-traumatic cause of amputations in the UK. In 2016, the charity Diabetes UK revealed that as many as 20 diabetes related amputations take place in England every single day.
The extent of an amputation can vary greatly from a single toe to an entire limb. The consequences for the patients involved can be both significantly life changing and life limiting. As many as 70% of those who have had an amputation carried out die within 5 years of the procedure.
A further complication of having an amputation is the added strain it places on the remaining limbs which can later result in more amputations being needed. Experts have said however, that the vast majority can be prevented if the appropriate care is given in a timely manner.
In the vast majority – 80% – of patients who have had a diabetes related amputation, the condition started with a preventable, and treatable, foot ulcer. Experts say that 4 out of 5 of these could have been avoided.
The three main causes of foot ulcers in diabetic patients are:
1. Peripheral Neuropathy
Caused by damage to the nerves in the hands, arms and feet. The symptoms can vary depending on which area of the body is affected but can include:
– Numbness and tingling
– Muscle weakness
– Reduced co-ordination
– Burning or shooting pain in the affected areas
Due to numbness in the affected area(s), patients with this condition are more prone to cuts and blisters. The loss of feeling also means that they are less aware of the injury and therefore unlikely to seek urgent treatment to avoid infections developing.
Even minor injuries or infections can develop into foot ulcers, and ultimately gangrene, if not treated quickly.
2. Peripheral Arterial Disease
Also known as peripheral vascular disease, this is caused by the gradual blockage of the arteries in the leg(s).
As the blood supply to the feet and leg(s) is affected, wound healing is impaired meaning that even minor wounds can become significant if not treated appropriately.
Even if the condition is not caused by a wound to the affected leg, it can become severe and the blood supply to parts of the foot and leg(s) can be reduced to the extent that the patient suffers tissue death, inevitably leading to an amputation being required to avoid further damage.
3. Charcot Foot
This causes degeneration in the bones and joints in the feet and can be triggered by minor trauma. It is characterised by hot swollen feet after a minor trauma. It can also lead to devastating deformity and amputation if it’s left untreated for too long.
How do you prevent foot ulcers?
Given the severity of the potential injuries caused as a result of untreated foot ulcers, prevention is relatively simple.
The NHS provides the following recommendations to diabetics on how to best maintain the health of their feet, and therefore, avoid getting foot ulcers:
• Visit a podiatrist at least once a year and have corns or hard skin treated
• Keep feet clean and free from infection
• Wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes to avoid getting corns, calluses, ulcers or nail problems
• Never walk barefoot to avoid getting cuts or bruises
• Avoid crossing legs when sitting as this could restrict blood circulation
• Cut or files toenails regularly
How we can help if you have not received the appropriate medical care leading to a diabetes related amputation
We understand diabetes and have acted for a number of clients who have undergone either major amputations (above the knee) or minor procedures (below the ankle).
Stubbing your toe can develop into more than a temporary pain
We acted on behalf of the estate of a 68 year old diabetic man who had stubbed his toe and it had turned black following the minor accident. His GP referred him to hospital where medical staff noted that there was a lack of pulses in his feet but failed to address this.
He didn’t receive any treatment until more than a month later. In that short period, what started as stubbing his toe – something those of us who don’t have diabetes wouldn’t think twice about – had developed and part of his foot had to be amputated.
Just a few weeks later, he had to return to hospital to undergo surgery to have a below the knee amputation however, his condition sadly continued to deteriorate. He died approximately 2 months after his initial A&E visit. The NHS Trust involved admitted liability and we successfully obtained a settlement for his family.
Foot ulcers should never be ignored
We represented a client who was a retired doctor with type 2 diabetes. Aged 78, he developed a foot ulcer on the bottom of his foot and visited his GP surgery asking for a hospital referral.
This should have been followed up as a matter of urgency however, his request was ignored on no less than 18 occasions despite him being seen by at least 4 different members of the medical team at the practice.
He eventually took himself to hospital but by this stage, the condition had developed and he had to have three of his toes amputated. The surgery also left him with a 25% risk of needing a below the knee amputation in the future.
We secured a five figure settlement for him.
What to do if you have suffered an amputation due to medical negligence
The inappropriate or delayed treatment of a foot ulcer in diabetic patients can often significantly affect their chance of recovery. It can also increase the risk of toes, feet or even whole leg(s) being amputated or in the worst scenarios, even lead to death.
A good foot care routine, alongside promptly seeking medical attention even for minor injuries, can greatly reduce the risks. Medical specialists have a duty of care to make urgent referrals when presented with such symptoms by diabetic patients.
If you, or someone you know, has suffered a diabetic related amputation due to the negligence of a medical professional, contact a member of our team for a confidential and free initial consultation on 0800 085 3295.
Alternatively, please email a summary of your potential claim and contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org.