NHS Trust fined £80,000 for window-fall death10 October 2012
Walsall Hospitals NHS Trust has appeared in court after a pensioner sustained fatal injuries when he fell from an unprotected first-floor window at Walsall Manor Hospital.
Harry Riley, 71, was admitted to the hospital’s initial assessment unit on 18 January 2009, after suffering a mini-stroke. During the night, he disconnected himself from his drip and climbed up onto a table to open a window. He fell out of the window and landed on the ground. He suffered collapsed lungs, a fractured pelvis and multiple rib fractures and died the following morning owing to his injuries.
The HSE’s investigation found the hospital had failed to install a restrictor on the window to limit the opening of the upper sash to ten centimetres. The Trust had also failed to carry out a proper risk assessment on the windows, despite receiving a safety alert from the Department of Health in 2007, which warned all hospitals about the risks of patients falling from upper-floor windows.
The alert, which was prompted by fall incidents, recommended that hospitals review all window restrictors and assess the potential risk from unrestricted windows. HSE inspector Eve-Marie Edwards said: “The Trust should have known about the risk to patients of falling from windows. However, despite clear guidance, it failed to carry out an effective risk assessment.
“Hospitals must ensure that they have properly assessed the risk to patients of falls from accessible windows that can be opened more than ten centimetres.
“It’s essential that all such windows on assessment wards are properly restricted owing to the range of patients admitted, some of whom may be very vulnerable.”
Walsall Hospitals NHS Trust appeared at Wolverhampton Crown Court on 9 October and pleaded guilty to breaching reg.3(1)(b) of the MHSWR 1999. It was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay £26,917 in costs.
In mitigation, the Trust said it had no previous convictions and has subsequently fitted restrictors to windows at the hospital.
After the hearing, Walsall Hospitals NHS Trust chief executive Richard Kirby said: “I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the family at this difficult time. We acknowledge that prior to this incident there was an oversight in our evaluation of the potential risks, which the ward environment posed to confused patients. We would like to apologise for this failure.
“The Trust takes its health and safety responsibilities extremely seriously and immediately took steps following this incident to minimise the chances of a similar incident happening again.”
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