Settlement for dementia patient who suffered serious fracture after avoidable fall

Case studies

Settlement for dementia patient who suffered serious fracture after avoidable fall

We settled a claim against Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust for a client whose elderly husband fractured his humerus following a fall from a hospital bed at East Surrey Hospital. Her husband later died, although his death was caused by his underlying medical condition rather than the fall itself.

The patient was an 83 year old man who suffered from dementia, Parkinson’s disease and near blindness. Before these events, he had been living at home with the care and assistance of his wife. He was often confused as a result of his dementia and his memory was very poor.

In October 2011, he fell at his home and hurt his back. He was taken to hospital for further investigations and was admitted overnight for observation. Despite the decision to admit him to a short stay ward, he was left for 26 hours in a bay in the A&E department as no bed space was available elsewhere.

During this period, he became increasingly confused and agitated. He was eventually transferred to the Acute Medical Unit (AMU) the day after his arrival at A&E. No formal assessment of his risk of falling was made by the nursing staff in either the A&E department or the AMU.

He was placed in a standard hospital bed in a bay. Shortly after his admission to the AMU, he became distressed and according to the nursing evidence, was trying to climb out of bed over the bedrails which were said to be in the upright position. This was witnessed by a healthcare assistant who, rather than using a call bell to summon assistance, left the patient unattended. In her absence, he suffered a significant fall from the height of his bed and injured his arm and shoulder. Despite the obvious bruising, the gravity of the fall and the restricted movement in his arm, an X-ray was not performed until 24 hours later.

The X-ray identified that the patient had fractured the neck of his humerus. His family were not informed of the fall and only learned of it when they received a Serious Untoward Incident Report four months later. Unfortunately, he did not recover sufficiently to enable him to be discharged home. He was instead transferred to a nursing home where he remained until his death 18 months later.

The defendant trust accepted that it failed to manage the patient appropriately and, had it done so, the fall and the consequent injury would have been avoided. It also admitted that the delay in diagnosing the fracture was unsatisfactory. Compensation was agreed after the trust made an offer to settle which our client accepted. The trust also offered an apology for its failings which was greatly appreciated by our client.

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