The Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team has settled a claim against Surrey and Sussex NHS Foundation Trust for a 53 year old woman who suffered a significant fall when she was a patient in A&E at the Royal Sussex County Hospital.
Our client attended A&E following repeated episodes of severe rectal bleeding after a haemorrhoidectomy operation eight days previously. She was admitted to A&E and continued to have further episodes of rectal bleeding which made her feel dizzy and light-headed. She was placed on a trolley bed in a cubicle that night without any patient call bell within reach. She was also not observed for several hours for signs of further haemorrhaging.
Believing she had begun to bleed again and having no means to summons assistance, our client got up from the trolley bed, fainted immediately and fell forwards. She was knocked unconscious in the fall and suffered significant maxillo-facial injuries, including loss and displacement of her front upper teeth, broken nose, fractured upper jaw, facial lacerations and bruising.
Our client underwent maxillo-facial surgery under general anaesthetic and required significant dental treatment. She will require ongoing dental care, including osseo-integrated dental implants for the lost teeth and root canal for her surviving teeth. She has been left with cosmetic defects to her nose.
We alleged that the Royal Sussex County Hospital breached its duty of care in three key areas. It failed to show our client the patient call bell and how to use it to call for assistance; failed to appreciate the risk that, given her history, signs and symptoms of bleeding, she might suffer a further bleed and faint; and failed to commence regular observations that would have revealed further signs of haemorrhage.
Liability for the claim was initially disputed by the hospital and, based on our advice about prospects, our client commenced formal court proceedings. Subsequent to that, a defence was served and the claim was settled out of court after the defendants accepted an offer made by the claimant.
Lucie Prothero, who specialises in hospital falls cases within the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, comments: “While we are seeing a significant increase in the number of claims and enquiries relating to falls amongst the elderly, this problem is not exclusively reserved to that age category. This was an example of an otherwise relatively healthy client who was suffering haemhorraging and demonstrated a foreseeable risk that she might lose further blood, faint and be at risk of falling if she tried to mobilise unassisted. She suffered painful injuries from the fall and it was a traumatic experience.
“There are clear NICE Guidelines on the importance of assessing patients on their risk of falling and also on basic standards of nursing care which should prevent this sort of situation from happening. Sadly, insufficient nursing resources are often at the root of the problem and, until appropriate staffing levels are raised, we will continue to see cases such as these.”