What is an amputation?
An amputation is the surgical removal of part of the body.
What are the most common reasons for amputation?
The most common reason for amputation is due to narrowing and hardening of the blood vessels (atherosclerosis), restricting the blood supply to the limbs (dysvascularity).
Amputations may also be required for reasons such as serious trauma, infection or limb cancer.
Who might need an amputation?
Over 50% of amputations occur in people older than 70 years of age and often those with an associated disease like peripheral vascular disease or diabetes.
According to NHS Choices, men are twice as likely to need an amputation as women.
Why is an amputation necessary?
Doctors as well as patients generally consider amputation as a last resort. Some of the reasons that amputations can be beneficial are:
- To relieve pain caused from a non-functioning limb
- Mobility, as it may be easier for some people to move around via a wheelchair or elbow crutches, than having an intact, non-functioning leg
- Prevention of severe infection, where it may be life-threatening and to prevent it from spreading further
- Prevention of growth of a tumour when there is limb cancer
Where would an amputation be needed?
There are two types of amputation:
- Lower limb amputation
- Upper limb amputation
How is an amputation performed?
An amputation is usually carried out under a general anaesthetic or an epidural anaesthetic.
Sometimes additional techniques are used during surgery to help improve the function of the residual limb and reduce the risk of complications. These include:
- Shortening and smoothing the bone in the residual limb so that it is covered by an adequate amount of soft tissue and muscle
- Stitching the remaining muscle to the bones to help strengthen the remaining limb
- After the amputation, the remaining stump wound is sealed with stitches or staples
Are there any risks of amputation?
There are a number of risks associated with amputations, even when they are conducted correctly. The early stage risks can include:
The intermediate stage risks are:
- Delayed wound healing
- Severe infection
- Pressure sores due to lack of mobility
Risks at the later stages:
What happens after the amputation?
The remaining limb will take time to heal and may be painful. The length of the hospital stay will depend on the type of amputation carried out and general state of health.
After recovery of the surgery, a number of different health professionals, such as an occupational therapist and physiotherapist, will help to form a care plan before the patient is discharged home.
It can take several months before a prosthetic limb can be fitted, if one is appropriate. The residual limb will change in shape and size over a period of 12-24 months. This means that fitting the prosthesis is likely to be an evolving process over this period of change.
People who have had an amputation often experience a psychological impact of the procedure. They may suffer with depression, or grief and a form of bereavement that has been recognised as similar to experiencing the death of a loved one.
Is a prosthetic limb suitable for everyone?
A prosthetic limb is not suitable for everyone, especially a lower prosthetic limb. It will depend on:
- The amount of muscle strength in the remaining section of the limb
- General state of health
- Tasks the prosthetic limb will be expected to perform (depending on occupation and hobbies)
- Whether the limb should appear as real as possible or whether the main priority is to use the limb for a range of activities
Can I pursue a legal claim for my amputation?
You should seek legal advice for a compensation claim if someone else may be responsible for an amputation you have undergone (or are due to undergo).
The amputation may be as a result of a road traffic accident, an accident at work or following negligent medical care. Specialist amputation solicitors can advise you on whether you have a claim.
Compensation may be substantial and can affect your access to support and rehabilitation for the remainder of your life.
How can an amputation legal claim help me?
A successful compensation claim cannot turn back the clock but it can go a long way towards alleviating hardship following an amputation.
Compensation may help to pay for adapted accommodation, transport, prostheses and equipment to restore independence. Rehabilitation and therapy can also be provided to support you as you adjust to your new circumstances - helping you increase your confidence, adjust to using new aids and equipment, and helping with your psychological/mental health.
You may find that your loss of independence becomes difficult for family members, who often take on the role of carer. Compensation can be used to employ carers to ease the burden on family members or to help support family members who take on this role.
Loss of earnings can also be claimed where you are no longer able to work or your role at work has been affected due to your amputation.
It is important to note that you may not have to wait until the conclusion of a claim to receive compensation. Interim payments may be available to help you with your immediate needs.
Can a legal claim help me if I’m not happy with my NHS treatment?
Compensation, as part of a claim, would enable you to opt for private medical treatment and therapy not necessarily available through the NHS.
This could include a consultation with an orthopedic surgeon and prosthetist, prior to the amputation, to ensure that the amputation results in an optimum stump for prosthetic replacement after the surgery.
Compensation may enable you to purchase a bespoke prosthetic limb more suited to your needs and lifestyle. You would also have the security of knowing that the funds are available to you for rehabilitation, limb replacement and maintenance in the future.
If the claim is against my GP and/or hospital, will it affect my future care?
No. Your care should not be affected in any way.
Your GP and/or the hospital do not have the right to refuse medical care as a result of a claim against them. You may, however, feel more comfortable looking for an alternative health care provider.
Why should I make a personal injury claim?
The loss of a limb can have an extensive psychological as well as physical and financial impact on many patients. If you have grounds to bring a personal injury claim, any compensation received can help make life easier enabling a person to:
- Adapt their homes or arrange more suitable accommodation
- Purchase help and equipment at home
- Buy a better suited car and wheelchair
- Purchase better quality prosthetic limbs than are available on NHS
- Obtain counselling to help deal with the psychological impact
What happens next?
If you have suffered an amputation following an accident at work or road traffic accident and can prove that it was someone else’s fault you may be entitled to make a claim.
How much compensation will I get for my amputation?
As specialist amputation lawyers, we will consider:
- The type of amputation you have had
- Any long term impact upon your health and any pre-existing health conditions
- Your ability to carry out daily activities and work
- The financial losses you have incurred and will incur in the future as a result of the amputation
- The support that you will require in the future
Expert evidence will be required to determine what your specific needs are. This usually means a report from someone with expertise in care, prosthetics, accommodation and physiotherapy as an example.
A compensation claim may include the following:
- Specialist aids and equipment such prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs
- Adaptations to your home, for example a lift or adapted bathroom
- Alternative accommodation
- Professional help in relation to personal care and/or household jobs such as ironing, cleaning, gardening
- Medical and therapy expenses such as physiotherapy, help with phantom pain and additional surgery required.
- Additional travel/transport expenses including purchase of an adapted car
- Assistance managing the psychological side effects of the amputation
- Loss of earnings
My home is no longer suitable for my needs as a result of the amputation. Can a compensation claim help me move to a more suitable home?
Yes, if an accommodation expert concludes that your home is not suitable for your needs following an amputation and no adaptations or extensions can be undertaken to make it suitable. The expert will consider your specific needs, to include your level of mobility as well as the aids, equipment and care you require.
The accommodation claim may also include legal and moving costs, adaptations that will be needed to a new house, and expenditure associated with the new property such as maintenance costs.
I’m not happy with my NHS prosthesis. Can I get a different prosthesis?
The prosthetic expert will be able to recommend an alternative prosthesis for you. The cost of a suitable, custom made prosthetic limb and any cosmetic covering will be considered in your compensation claim. We will seek to obtain an interim payment to fund the best prosthetic limb for you as quickly as possible.
The prosthetist will also consider additional prosthetics specific to your interests and hobbies, for example running, cycling or swimming.
Will the compensation affect my benefits?
If you receive compensation for an amputation claim, your entitlement to receive means tested benefits may be affected. There are ways, however, to protect the compensation and any entitlement to benefits, for example by setting up a Personal Injury Trust.
Receiving benefits should not stop you from pursuing a claim for compensation but you should seek specific legal advice on this.
What happens to the compensation money if I die after the claim has been concluded?
If you received a lump sum compensation settlement, the money falls into your estate and will pass in accordance with your Will. If you have not made a Will, the money passes in accordance with the Intestacy rules (where someone dies without leaving a Will).
Is there a time limit to pursuing an amputation legal claim?
Court proceedings for a compensation claim should usually be commenced within three years of the injury. Particularly in a medical negligence case this date might be before the amputation itself. There are exceptions to the three year rule, specifically in relation to children and individuals who do not have capacity to pursue litigation. We can advise you further on this issue.
Ideally, you should speak to a solicitor as soon as possible after the injury or when you learn that an amputation is going to be carried out.
Early legal advice is important as evidence may be based on an individual’s recollection which needs to be documented as soon as possible. In certain cases, an early interim payment can also be obtained to pay for much needed aids, equipment or treatment including early rehabilitation.
How long will the amputation claim take?
This depends on the complexity of the case and whether liability is admitted. The final conclusion of your claim may be delayed until there is certainty regarding your prognosis.
We would however try to obtain an early admission of liability from the defendant and early funding to assist you as soon as possible.
If liability is not admitted or the case is complex, it will take longer and may involve use of the court process. We would provide regular updates on the anticipated process and timeframe for your claim.
Will I have to go to court if I make a claim?
The vast majority of amputation claims resolve successfully without a final court hearing. This, however, cannot be guaranteed. If either liability or the value of your claim cannot be agreed then the court process may be required. If the case does go to court, we would support and guide you through the process.