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Contact injuries from wheelchairs in hospitals | Signal

Reference number
1162 F
Issue date26 February 2010

This Signal relates to the risk of contact injuries for frail and high-risk patients when using traditional wheelchairs to transfer patients within hospitals.


Hospitals have their own supply of wheelchairs to transport patients between wards and other areas. For patients with fragile skin, however, even a minor contact can lead to a laceration and possible serious harm. In addition, even minor injuries can heal poorly in patients with problems such as oedematous legs and poor peripheral circulation, and potentially develop into leg ulcers.


A sample incident reads:
“The porter brought the patient back from a procedure and when transferring patient from wheelchair to chair caught her right shin on footplate… pool of blood on the floor. After bleeding stopped, wound continued to leak despite dressing and elevating leg.”


The National Reporting and Learning Service (NRLS) has identified around 700 reports of injury from contact with wheelchairs, especially wheelchair footplates, over a recent 12-month period. It was difficult to establish the severity of harm in many cases, but all were preventable.


Traditional wheelchairs are designed to support independence (for example, they need to be able to collapse for transport in a car) and should be chosen and adapted to the needs of individual patients. However, the design features that are important for individual adaptation and use in the community may increase the likelihood of injury if such wheelchairs are being used for inpatients on a ‘pool’ basis. This could be within a ward (such as transporting patients from their bedside to the toilet) or between departments. In these cases, purpose-built transfer and transport chairs may present fewer contact hazards than a traditional hospital wheelchair, and these are in routine use in many hospitals. Hospitals using traditional collapsible wheelchairs on a ‘pool’ basis should consider if safer alternatives could be used.  


Have you had any incidents like this? 

What kind of wheelchairs are used in your hospital? 

Are purpose-made transport chairs with less risk of contact injury available to transfer patients between wards?

Relevant to: General medicine, estate and facility management



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