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A private healthcare company fined for negligence causing accidental death of an elderly patient

Date: (19 July 2012)    |    

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Michael Walsh, 85, fell from a balcony at the BMI Shelburne Hospital in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire after being left on his own despite being confused after an operation.
On 14 February 2009, Mr Walsh had walked through unlocked doors in his room and fell off the balcony and contacted pneumonia from the injuries he received and died the following day the Avlesbury Crown Court heard.
The court heard that there were no keys available to staff to lock the doors and even once they were made available, the sliding doors could not be fully locked.
It appeared that even with locks, one side of the sliding doors could not be locked. A properly conducted risk assessment should have revealed that the doors could not be locked and recognised the implications of that.
The fatal error was not recognised until after Mr Walsh's death as BMI Healthcare did not carry out an adequate risk assessment, the court heard.
The private healthcare company was ordered to pay out nearly £130,000 after the elderly father of a BBC health correspondent died due to neglect of duties of hospital management.
BMI was fined £100,000, ordered to pay £29,446.95 in costs and a £15 victim surcharge after previously pleading guilty to a failure to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Judge Joanna Cutts said that in every sense it was a tragic case. It was clear that Mr Walsh was a loved man and in his later years took an active life.
He added that the company fell significantly short of applicable standards and the sad death of Mr Walsh was clearly a serious aggravating factor in the case. It could not be ignored that the company could and should have done more to ensure the safety of patients and a man has died as a result.
The company being country’s largest private healthcare provider handling more than 250,000 inpatient and one million outpatient every year had not been convicted of a health and safety breach prior to this case which was justifying factor the judge said.
After the hearing, Health and Safety Executive inspector Robert Meardon said the case graphically demonstrates that hospitals need to ensure that vulnerable patients in their care are not allowed to be put at unnecessary risk. This patient's accident was entirely avoidable.
There is a well-known accident history in the care sector of vulnerable people falling from window openings and balconies, which is why there is no excuse for duty holders to fail to manage these risks. It is essential that effective assessment of the risks are undertaken in order to ensure the necessary preventive measures are put in place he added.