Fine prompts hospital safety purge

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The Independent Online
A nationwide crackdown on hospitals was launched yesterday after an NHS Trust was fined pounds 4,000 for breaching safety regulations.

It is the first time the Health and Safety Executive has brought a case that was not prompted by a specific accident and teams have now begun visiting 40 NHS trusts around the country. They have warned that more prosecutions could follow if rule breaches were found.

Swindon and Marlborough NHS Trust admitted a single charge of breaking health and safety rules before magistrates in Swindon, Wiltshire, in a two hour hearing yesterday.

The court heard that the trust had put staff and patients at risk through a "fundamental failure" to ensure proper safety systems were in place.

The case followed a routine inspection at the trust last September which found lapses in policy and training in manual handling, the biggest single cause of hospital accidents, as well as inadequate ventilation for a hospital mortuary handling 850 post mortems a year.

The court was told the trust was guilty of a "fundamental failure" to ensure that adequate systems were in place and enforced. David Pokora, chairman of the trust, was told this had "placed undue risk, in particular on members of staff and also for patients and members of the public".

The inspection also found that the trust had no system to clearly separate clinical waste - including used syringes and dressings - from other rubbish.

Mr Pokora claimed that the difficulties had arisen from an inherited backlog of maintenance work costing pounds 40 million.

However, the King's Fund - an independent healthcare charity, said it was "not surprised" that the trust was prosecuted. Gordon Mitchell, its spokesman, said: "Often we find they have adequate systems in place ... but these are not followed up."