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July 2, 2012

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Scottish Ambulance Service fined £55,000 after pensioner’s death

An elderly woman suffered fatal injuries in a road traffic accident while she was being transported inside an ambulance, which didn’t have a proper restraint system.

May Jean Morris, 78, was travelling inside the vehicle, when the incident took place on 10 December 2008. She had been collected from her home in Paisley, Scotland and was being taken to hospital for a dialysis appointment.

Mrs Morris was loaded into the vehicle and her wheelchair was secured to the floor with webbing straps. But she was only fastened in her seat by a nylon lap belt, which was part of her wheelchair. This contravened the Scottish Ambulance Service Board’s (SASB) own protocol, which required wheelchair passengers to be held in place by an occupant restraint system.

As the vehicle travelled down Renfrew Road in Paisley, it was involved in a low-speed collision when it attempted to change lanes. Mrs Morris was thrown more than two metres from her wheelchair and struck a stretcher as she fell. She suffered fractures to her arm, ribs, leg and neck. She died in hospital three days later owing to her injuries.

HSE inspector Graeme Waller told SHP that SASB had received reports from staff that some vehicles were missing occupant restraint systems. It had also failed to provide sufficient information and training to its employees to ensure they checked that the equipment was present on all vehicles.

“Mrs May Jean Morris died unnecessarily as a result of the SASB’s failing to assess the risks associated with the transport of patients in wheelchairs,” said inspector Waller. “This prosecution will draw attention to the importance of assessing and ensuring the health and safety of vulnerable people during transit, as well as ensuring that vehicles used for patient transport are properly equipped, and staff trained in the use of this equipment.”

SASB appeared at Paisley Sheriff Court on 27 June and pleaded guilty to breaching s3(1) and s33(1)(a) of the HSWA 1974 and was fined £55,000.

In mitigation, the organisation said it has reviewed its tie-down systems and subsequently spent more than £350,000 to ensure that all its passenger-transport vehicles have the correct equipment.

Speaking after the hearing, head of the Procurator Fiscal health and safety division Elaine Taylor said: “Those in wheelchairs were vulnerable persons who relied on the SASB to transport them safely, and yet, for almost 18 months, there was no safe system to ensure that they were adequately secured while in the vehicles.
“A suitable and sufficient risk assessment should have identified this issue and enabled the SASB to take steps to put such a system in place.”

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