Healthcare firm fined over death of man aged 85

 


A private healthcare company was ordered today to pay out nearly £130,000 after the elderly father of a BBC health correspondent died due to hospital management neglecting their duties.

Michael Walsh, 85, fell 15ft from a balcony at the BMI Shelburne Hospital in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, after being left on his own despite suffering from confusion following an operation.

On Valentine's Day 2009, Mr Walsh walked on to the balcony through unlocked doors in his room and fell off the balcony, Aylesbury Crown Court heard.

He died of pneumonia resulting from his injuries the following day.

The court heard that there were no keys available to staff to lock the doors and even once they were made available, the sliding doors could not be fully locked.

The fatal flaw was not recognised until after Mr Walsh's death as BMI Healthcare did not carry out an adequate risk assessment, the court heard.

BMI was today fined £100,000, ordered to pay £29,446.95 in costs and a £15 victim surcharge after previously pleading guilty to a failure to discharge a duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Judge Joanna Cutts said: "In every sense this is a tragic case. It is clear that Mr Walsh was a loved man and in his later years took an active life.

"It appeared that even with locks, one side of the sliding doors could not be locked. A properly conducted risk assessment should have revealed that the doors could not be locked and recognised the implications of that.

"The company fell significantly short of applicable standards.

"The sad death of Mr Walsh is clearly a serious aggravating factor in this case.

"In every sense Mr Walsh was an honourable person.

"I cannot ignore that this company could and should have done more to ensure the safety of patients and a man has died as a result."

Mr Walsh's son and health correspondent for the BBC, Fergus Walsh, said: "We are very relieved it is over and the crucial thing is that it never happens to anybody again, whether it is in an NHS hospital, a private hospital or a nursing home.

"Any sliding door that can open is the same risk as a window."

The broadcaster continued: "Michael Walsh went into hospital for a routine operation, which was successfully completed, but just days later died in terrible pain.

"It seems impossible to imagine that rooms would be fitted with patio doors that could not be locked, particularly when post-operative confusion is known to affect patients of all ages. And it is surely basic common sense that vulnerable and confused people are not left unattended in an environment where they could injure themselves.

"We sincerely hope that a tragedy like this does not happen again and that a clear message is sent to all hospitals and care homes to check the safety of their premises."

Mr Walsh, an active man from Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, had not suffered from confusion prior to his routine prostate operation, and was left with a fractured spine after the fall on February 14 2009. He was transferred to an NHS hospital but died the following day after developing pneumonia.

The court, sitting in Amersham, heard that Mr Walsh had become confused in the days after his operation on February 10, shouting at staff and at one point throwing a fire extinguisher down a corridor.

He was monitored by nurses and doctors and it was only when the day staff were handing over to the night staff that Mr Walsh was left alone to walk out on to the balcony.

The judge recognised that there was no failure in terms of staff or staffing levels, but that the failure was not realising the built-in risk of the doors that could not be locked.

BMI has now rectified the problem, the court heard.

The company is the country's largest private healthcare provider, with 69 hospitals across the country.

The firm handles more than 250,000 inpatient and one million outpatient visits each year and had not been convicted of a health and safety breach prior to this case, a significant mitigating factor, according to the judge.

After the hearing, Health and Safety Executive inspector Robert Meardon said: "This case graphically illustrates that hospitals need to ensure that vulnerable patients in their care are not allowed to be put at unnecessary risk. This patient's accident was entirely avoidable.

"The hospital had not assessed the risk of someone falling off their balcony in private rooms, and had no system in place to ensure that the risks of a fall were adequately controlled. A possible control would have been to have locks on the balcony doors, with keys under the supervision of medical staff.

"However Mr Walsh was left alone, and he was able to get on to the balcony and fall several metres to the ground below.

"There is a well-known accident history in the care sector of vulnerable people falling from window openings and balconies, which is why there is no excuse for duty holders to fail to manage these risks. It is essential that effective assessment of the risks are undertaken in order to ensure the necessary preventive measures are put in place."

After an inquest into Mr Walsh's death in 2010, his son revealed that his father had been a firm believer in private healthcare.

He said: "My father had great faith in private medicine. He was suspicious of the NHS. It is an irony that he paid a lot of money, as he had private insurance for 50 years, and in the end it sadly let him down."

PA

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

    £21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

    £120 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: The Humanities Department of this ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee