Sunday, 18 January 2009

NHS safety blunders cost patients' lives

Scalding hot bath water, unsafe windows and even potholes outside a hospital have claimed the lives of NHS patients, an official dossier has revealed.

By Beezy Marsh
Last Updated: 11:47AM GMT 17 Jan 2009

Others have suffered injury due to collapsing bed rails or been exposed to dangerous bacteria including tuberculosis because of a lack of basic safeguards.

The toll of shoddy care is exposed in official details of enforcement action against the NHS by the Government's Health and Safety Executive.

The HSE, which upholds stringent standards to protect the public and the workforce, has acted against the NHS on more than 300 occasions in the past four years.

In 40 of the most serious cases, covering a 10-year period, the NHS was taken to court by the HSE and given fines totalling nearly £600,000, paid from the public purse.

The litany of avoidable fatalities and injuries includes:

*The death of a pensioner who developed serious burns after lying against a scalding hot radiator on a ward.

*Two cases, including a fatality, involving patients being put in boiling hot baths.

*The death of a hospital visitor who fell down a pothole in a hospital driveway.

*The deaths of two mental health patients who fell from hospital windows in separate incidents.

*Two further cases in which vulnerable patients suffered back and ankle injuries after falling from hospital windows which were not fitted with proper safety catches.

*A frail patient who suffered a broken hip after a bedrail collapsed.

*Patients being exposed to legionella because of poorly maintained water systems, and to live tuberculosis bacteria, after it was dropped in a laboratory with a faulty ventilation system.

The details, held on the HSE website, follow the latest data from the National Patient Safety Agency which show the number of patients killed by hospital blunders has risen by 60 per cent in just two years.

Patients' groups said there could be no excuse for such an appalling safety record in the NHS.

Katharine Murphy, director of the Patients Association, said: "It is totally unacceptable for patients to be suffering injuries or be exposed to danger simply by going into hospital.

"These poor practices should not be allowed and the blame must lie with weak management of the hospitals."

The HSE served 323 official notices to the NHS between 2004 and 2008, including 23 prohibition notices where work had to stop immediately because of the risk to life.

There were a further 39 cases which led to successful prosecutions.

These include the death of a mental health patient who fell from a window at Birch Hill Hospital in Rochdale in 2004 and the death of a vulnerable patient who fell 12 feet (3.6m) from a window at the Forth Valley Primary Care Trust in Stirlingshire in 2003.

South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust was fined £7,500 for the death of a visitor who was going home from Springfield Hospital when he fell down a deep hole in the hospital driveway, which had been caused by a vehicle uprooting a metal post.

He was taken to A&E with a fractured wrist but subsequently died in hospital after the incident in 2005.

Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge was fined £3,000 over the death of a frail pensioner who suffered fatal burns after lying next to an unguarded radiator in 1999.

In another tragic incident in the same year, a severely disabled patient at Prudhoe Hospital in Northumberland died of burns after being placed in a boiling hot bath by an inexperienced care worker.
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