Medical Negligence

Elderly cancer patient, 79, died from brain injury after falls due to hospital’s negligence

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Shauna Page

Senior Solicitor

4 min read time

An elderly cancer patient died from a brain injury after suffering three falls in hospital because staff failed to follow basic steps to keep him safe.

The pensioner, who was 79 when he died, was admitted to Wansbeck General Hospital, Northumberland, suffering from anaemia, confusion, and the after effects of a stroke.

Within 24 hours he suffered his first fall in hospital after staff failed to stop the ‘confused’ and ‘unsteady’ man from wandering around the ward alone.

His second fall happened four days after his admission and his third and final fall – which caused his death – was one week after he arrived on the ward. His cause of death was recorded as a brain injury, falls, and lymphoma.

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Hospital Trust’s negligence in preventing patient from fall

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has now settled a damages claim after the man’s family brought legal action through Hudgell Solicitors.

The Trust admitted two of the falls had been negligent and agreed to pay the family, who do not wish to be named, £15,000. The patient had been brought into the hospital in July 2014 because of his agitation and confusion.

Medical notes prepared by the nursing staff referred to his lack of mobility and the fact that he was struggling to stand and was unsteady on his feet, often leaning or staggering.

Nursing staff also recorded that he was confused and prone to wandering around the ward unaided, and was not using the call bell system for help.

Despite this, staff failed to carry out an adequate fall assessment, and did not take basic steps to ensure his safety such as placing a sensor pad on his bed to alert them to his movements, or providing urine bottles to prevent him from needing to leave his bed for the toilet.

The hospital faced multiple accusations of negligence, which included not increasing nursing care on a one-to-one basis, and failing to ensure he was in a highly visible part of the ward close to the nurses’ station.

They did not conduct one-hour checks after the second fall, and nurses did not alert any other members of staff from physiotherapy or occupational health about his lack of stability, or pass on information about his risk of falling and injuring himself at shift handovers.

Even after the second fall, staff did not act to make sure any further falls were avoided. The third fall happened on July 23, 2014, and the patient suffered a severe head injury and died two days later.

Shauna Page, a specialist medical negligence solicitor at Hudgell Solicitors, said:

This is shocking given this man was an elderly cancer patient who went into hospital with his family expecting him to receive the dedicated care he needed.

Instead of receiving appropriate care and support given his vulnerability and frailty, few measures were put in place to protect him. Having three falls, the last of which killed him, in the space of a week, suggests an appalling standard of dedicated care.

There are clear guidelines for nursing and hospital staff in dealing with patients who are at risk of falls which are in place to ensure they don’t suffer further injury in healthcare settings.

These guidelines were not followed, which is a serious breach of duty of care.

A vulnerable patient has died in their care as a result.  This simply should not ever happen, and it is devastating for the family that he went in to hospital to receive improved care given his illnesses, and never came home because of negligence.

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