Health trust fined after OAP falls out of window

A HEALTH trust has been fined �10,000 after a vulnerable, partially-sighted patient was severely injured when he fell out of a first floor hospital window.

James Hore

A HEALTH trust has been fined �10,000 after a vulnerable, partially-sighted patient was severely injured when he fell out of a first floor hospital window.

Charles Preston suffered a blow to his head and broke his pelvis, shoulder and coccyx after the accident at Clacton and District Hospital last March.

Harwich Magistrates' Court heard yesterday that the 68-year-old had suffered four strokes leaving him mentally and emotionally impaired and liable to wander around the ward.

At around 10.20pm on March 4 retired Mr Preston went into the day room of the St Osyth Priory ward and fell from an open window to the ground below.

It emerged the Department of Health ordered the trust review its window restrictors before the accident happened - but no action was taken.

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The oversight meant the windows opened much further than they should, allowing room for Mr Preston to fall.

NHS North East Essex, which runs the hospital, pleaded guilty to health and safety breaches and was ordered to pay a fine of �10,000 and costs of �4,972.

Mr Preston is also pursuing a claim for compensation against the primary care trust. (PCT)

Paul Zollinger-Read, the trust's chief executive, told the court: “First and foremost, the trust would like to apologise to Mr Preston, his wife and his family for the injuries he has sustained as a result of the failings on the part of the trust.

“The trust accepts by virtue of its guilty plea, and has never argued otherwise, that there had been failings in how the relevant ward functioned: how the trust dealt with the safety alert bulletins received specifically addressing windows; and how the trust worked with third party contractors in relation to its estate management.

“I can confirm both that lessons have been learned within the trust as a result of this incident and that the trust has reviewed its risk management systems concerning general risks and those specifically relevant to windows.

“We have put in place new systems to ensure that risks are identified and appropriate control measures adopted and monitored.”

Kim Wicks, an inspector for the Health and Safety Executive, which brought the prosecution, said: “North East Essex primary care trust failed in its duty to ensure the health and safety of this retired gentleman, who was left severely injured after his fall, which should never have happened.

“The case should serve as an alarm bell, reminding all primary care trusts how vitally important it is to carry out full risk assessments and act on the findings.

“The risk of vulnerable patients falling from windows above ground level is well known and there have been a number of similar cases.

“Equally, the control measures, in this case window restrictors, to prevent this risk are easy to fit and maintain.

“All PCTs must ensure they adhere to recognised NHS safety standards - they are there for a reason. If North East Essex PCT had done so this unfortunate incident could have been avoided.”

The trust admitted breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.