The impact of inpatient falls in hospitals can be devastating for both the patient and their family members. Short term consequences include physical disability, the need for surgery and increased length of stay. Longer-term consequences include a deterioration in overall health, loss of confidence and independence and heightened pressure on families.
NHS Improvement has acknowledged that falls are the most commonly reported type of incident in acute and community hospitals and the third most commonly reported in mental health hospitals.
Using data from its National Reporting and Learning System, NHS Improvement found that in 2015-16, more than 250,000 falls were reported across acute, mental health and community hospital settings.
Of those 250,000, 77% involved patients over the age of 65 who were also more likely to suffer injury as a result of the fall.
NHS Improvement has calculated that the average cost of a fall in hospital was £2,600; the total estimated cost of reported inpatient falls in 2015-16 was £630m.
Ruth May, Executive Director of Nursing at NHS Improvement, responded by saying that “falls can have a devastating effect on people, they can set back their recovery and cause them to stay in hospital much longer than they need to.”
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also acknowledges that “falls and fall-related injuries are a common and serious problem for older people.” It points out that “the human cost of falling includes distress, pain, injury loss of confidence, loss of independence and mortality. Falling also affects the family members and carers of people who fall. Falls are estimated to cost the NHS more than £2.3 billion per year.”
Due to the magnitude of this problem, hospitals have a duty of care to carry out a risk assessment for any vulnerable patient who might be at risk of falling. A failure to undertake such a risk assessment may give rise to a claim if the vulnerable patient goes on to experience a fall. A claim could also be pursued if a hospital fails to implement the provisions contained in a risk assessment, for example, by providing closer nursing care or ensuring that the cot sides on a bed are raised to prevent the patient from rolling out of bed.
A manual handling risk assessment should also be carried out whenever a vulnerable patient is required to be moved or transferred from one location to another. If this does not take place, then the patient might suffer an injury and a claim may be brought on this basis.
Hospitals should also ensure that nurses respond to patients’ call bells in a timely manner. If call bells are not responded to promptly, it is foreseeable that the patient requesting assistance will attempt to get out of bed/manoeuvre themselves. This can result in a fall which could have been avoided if the nurse had responded to the call bell on time.
The risk of falling is multifactorial. Prevention is usually based on assessing multiple risk factors, including:
At Wolferstans we recognise the adverse effects that falls can have on individuals and have an experienced team of medical negligence lawyers who can provide help and support in securing compensation awards in respect of these injuries. Listed below are some examples of the cases which we have recently settled involving falls in hospital: