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March 23, 2007

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Visitor fall lands NHS Trust in the dock

An elderly man died after fracturing his hip in a fall on an unmaintained path at a London hospital.

South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust pleaded guilty on 2 March before City of London magistrates to breaching s3(1) of HSWA 1974 by not ensuring the safety of members of the public.

The court heard that on 18 December 2005, 88-year-old William Durrant and his wife had been visiting their daughter at Springfield University Hospital. To get to the main entrance, they walked in the dark down a rough, unlit tarmac path that had not been signposted as unsafe.

Although there was a “preferred route” set up by the Trust, it was not signposted and, in fact, was a longer route to the main entrance. Mr Durrant fell into a pothole full of leaves created by a post that had been knocked down before the incident. He fractured a hip and wrist and developed bronchial pneumonia in hospital, from which he subsequently died a month later.

The Trust’s mitigation was given that it pleaded guilty early; the site was a complex one that had grown organically; it had put in a preferred route; and it had a reactive regime in place whereby if faults were reported, it repaired them.

HSE inspector Hazel McCallum, who investigated and prosecuted the case, told SHP: “This case is a sad reminder to the NHS of the importance of applying a properly thought-out and effective maintenance regime for its properties to ensure the safety of staff, patients and the visiting public alike. The case was brought not simply because of a hole in a path, but on a more global charge of not managing a site safely. Our overall message is – think about your site and ensure that it is maintained.”

She added: “What [the Trust] should have done, and have now put in place, is to get someone to walk the path on a regular basis and put a system in place to effect repairs promptly – in other words, to manage the risks from slips and trips.”

The Trust was fined £7500 and ordered to pay the HSE’s full costs of £3694.

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