West Suffolk Hospital fined after patient falls from window
A hospital has been fined £10,000 for safety failings after a vulnerable patient was seriously injured in a fall from an unrestricted first-floor window.
The patient, who does not wish to be named, suffered a broken vertebra and a punctured lung in the incident at West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury St Edmunds, on September 30, 2011.
Bury St Edmunds Magistrates' Court was told that the patient, who may require further spinal surgery and is unable to work, had been admitted to the hospital and transferred to a ward two days prior to the incident.
But at about 6am on September 30, in an apparent state of confusion, she used a chair by a bay window to climb up, fully open the window and climb out in a bid to escape.
She fell almost three metres to bushes below. These partly cushioned her fall, but she was still seriously injured and had to be transferred to Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, for surgery to her spine.
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An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which brought the prosecution, proved that the hospital's arrangements for managing the risk of patients falling from windows were inadequate.The HSE found there was no window restrictor fitted to the window she fell from and a survey carried out by West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust after the incident highlighted a number of issues with restrictors elsewhere.
These included restrictors on windows in a children's ward that although in place, weren't tamper-proof.
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The trust was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £1,420 in costs after admitting breaching Regulation 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
After the hearing, HSE inspector Nicola Jaynes said: 'This incident was entirely preventable. Had a suitable window restrictor been provided, as it should have been by the hospital trust, she would not have been able to open the window wide enough to fall out.
'Fitting window restrictors is a simple, inexpensive job that is proven to save lives. Falls from unrestricted or inadequately restricted windows are not uncommon in the healthcare sector and sadly there have been at least a dozen fatalities in recent years.'
A spokesman for the hospital said: 'Following this incident, we undertook immediate action to fit window restrictors to every hospital window.
'We also commissioned a detailed investigation of the incident, the recommendations of which have resulted in changes in our systems in order to prevent future, similar incidents.
'We sincerely apologise to the patient concerned. Ensuring people using the hospital site are safe is our highest priority and we remain committed to fulfilling all of our obligations in respect of patient, staff and visitor safety.'