The clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches LLP has been instructed to investigate another upsetting case of an avoidable hospital fall for an elderly and vulnerable patient.
The lady concerned, who suffered from dementia, was admitted to hospital with severe dehydration. She was extremely weak and frail. A manual handling and falls risk assessment identified her as being at high risk of falls due to various factors, including her tendency to get up unassisted, her memory problems which meant that she was unable to recall the need to summons assistance in order to move or appreciate the risk to her safety, and her extreme physical frailty at that time. The assessment concluded that she required one-to-one nursing support, often termed 'specialing'.
In contravention of the assessment and the hospital falls policy (based on NICE guidelines), the patient was left unattended for an unknown period of time by the healthcare assistant who had been assigned to take care of her. When the assistant returned, she was found lying on the ground and investigations revealed she had sustained a fractured hip, amongst other injuries. She developed septicaemia and remains in a critical condition.
The hospital involved has already conducted a serious incident investigation, which identified that the healthcare assistant had not received adequate training regarding the safeguards required for patients at high risk of falls. There was a failure to provide sensor mats that would have alerted staff if the patient began to move and she should not have been left unattended.
Lucie Prothero, associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, who specialises in hospital falls cases, comments: “This case has had a devastating impact. We see many claims relating to falls in elderly and vulnerable patients, either as a result of poor management in hospital or in the community-care context. A worrying number result in serious injury or death. Often, simple yet effective measures can be taken to minimise the risk of falls occurring.
“Here, the patient suffered a hip fracture which can be extremely debilitating for older patients and lead to further problems – such as infection (as occurred here), the loss of the ability to mobilise independently and, potentially, the loss of independent living in the community. As the UK population ages, management of the elderly in hospitals is a problem which needs to be tackled, given the human cost to patients and their families, as well as the financial burden it places on our health and social care systems.”