Back-injury crisis among nurses costs NHS pounds 120m

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The Independent Online
BACK INJURIES among nurses have reached crisis levels, costing taxpayers pounds 120m year in staff sickness absences and wasted training of those forced to leave their jobs as a result, health service managers were warned yesterday, writes Judy Jones.

Most hospitals still fail to provide adequate mechanical hoists or the training to ease the strain on nurses backs, in spite of stringent new EC limits on the weights employees are required to lift. Research by nursing organisations suggests that about 80,000 nurses a year require time off work after patient-lifting accidents and a further 3,600 nurses leave the profession because of the permanent damage caused.

Three-quarters of student nurses recently surveyed reported that their complaints of back injury were not investigated by senior staff. Two-thirds of nurses said they lacked mechanical aids.

Peggy Pryer, of the Royal College of Nursing's work-injured nurses group, said nurses should stop suffering in silence. 'Many are frightened of being labelled a 'whinger' by management, or become victims of the emotional blackmail that hospitals use to deter damages claims. It is not unusual for nurses suffering a serious back injury at work to be told that patient care budgets would be cut if they pressed a compensation claim.'

She was speaking at the launch in London of a campaign organised by Nursing Times magazine, with the backing of health and safety groups, to increase awareness of the hazards and the drain on NHS resources that avoidable injuries cause. Health authorities that fail to implement policies to minimise the risk to nurses and continue to ignore the problem could face prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive from next January.

EC regulations governing manual handling require that no employee should have to lift more than 30kg (66lb) alone, or 50kg (110lb) for two people lifting one weight together. Lawyers for the Royal College of Nursing have recovered pounds 5.5m in back-injury damages settlements in the past three years. Several awards have been in excess of pounds 150,000.

Richard Bernhard, the RCN's director of legal services, said: 'Some employers resort to reprehensible tactics to resist a claim. They will brand the claimant a troublemaker and dissuade her colleagues from giving evidence.'

Angela Whitehead, an adviser to the Health and Safety Executive, said that some hospitals had lifting equipment that was, in effect, useless because it could not be moved over carpets, or in and out of patients' bathrooms.

(Photograph omitted)