Primary care trust fined £10,000 after patient falls 4 metres from window

North East Essex Primary Care Trust was today fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,972 after a vulnerable and partially-sighted patient it was responsible for fell 4.3 metres from a first floor window at Clacton & District Hospital.

The retired 68-year-old suffered a blow to the head and broke his pelvis, shoulder and coccyx in the fall in March last year. The court heard he was known to wander on the ward and had previously suffered four strokes, which had left him mentally and emotionally impaired.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) prosecuted the Primary Care Trust (PCT), based at Colchester Primary Care Centre, in Turner Road, Colchester, over the incident. Today representatives of the PCT appeared at Harwich Magistrates’ Court and admitted breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974.

The court heard that the patient was staying in the St Osyth Priory Ward at Clacton & District Hospital, in Tower Road, Clacton-on-Sea. At around 10.20pm on Tuesday 4 March 2008, he had wandered into the ward’s first floor day room and fell from an open window to the ground below.

The window was able to open 254mm, but since 1989 NHS standards have required such a window to only open to 100mm by fitting a window restrictor.

Shortly before the incident the PCT was required by the Department of Health to review its window restrictors and identify any that were missing, damaged or defective. This review was not carried out.

HSE Inspector Kim Wicks 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.”

“Today’s 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.”