Mon 22 Jul 2019

Don't Fall For It - Was My Injury Preventable?

On 8 July 2019, The Scottish Government released its consultation paper on a renewed Falls and Fracture Prevention Strategy: 2019 - 2024. Contributions are now being sought from patients, families, healthcare workers and care providers to build a strategy which reduces not only the number of falls occurring in hospital and care home settings, but also the impact of resulting injuries on the ability of a person to continue doing the things that are important to them.

It is well recognised that the population groups most at risk of suffering from recurrent falls are older people and those with complex health needs. With a focus on those groups specifically, considerable work has been undertaken in the past 10 years to reduce the harm from falls in hospital and care home settings. The fruit of those efforts can be found in the form of a reduction in the rate of hip fractures and also in a reduced number of emergency hospital admissions due to falls across Scotland.

Whilst that is to be commended, it is inevitable that the rate at which the Scottish population is ageing  presents a fresh challenge to those tasked with ensuring the benefits of quality healthcare aren't negated by the effects of preventable injuries. Enabling people to live in their own homes for as long as possible is a clear government priority, not least because of the rising cost of residential care for those unable to live independently.

Whilst the efforts to reduce the rate of injuries arising from falls are perhaps understandably focussed on the older population, it is also recognised that more needs to be done to meet the needs of younger people at risk of preventable harm. In 2017/18, over 37,000 people in Scotland were admitted to hospital as a result of injuries arising from a fall. 14,600 of those (around 40%) were under the age of 65 at the time of their injury. That figure serves as clear evidence to show that assumptions cannot be made about the level of care a patient requires in order to reduce the risk of preventable conditions as far as possible. In each case, a full assessment should be carried out to identify the level of risk the individual faces, and the steps that can be taken to mitigate those risks as far as is practicable.

When can a Fall lead to a Claim?

In some cases, it can be established that a fall was 'preventable'. This means that reasonable steps could, and should, have been taken to ensure that the risk of falling would be significantly reduced. For example, if a patient is assessed a suffering from frailty on admission to hospital or in a care home setting, an appropriate 'falls-management' strategy should be put in place by the healthcare provider. That strategy can include a range of measures such as mounting safety rails to the sides of the bed to provide additional support, or the provision of a touch sensitive mat which alerts staff to the possibility that a patient has left their bed and is walking unaided.

If those measures are included within a care plan but are not then implemented, the healthcare provider is potentially liable for injuries sustained by the patient as a result of a fall. In some cases, those injuries can have serious, or indeed fatal, consequences. If a patient suffers a triggering or acceleration of a medical condition as a result of their fall, they are entitled to recover compensation from the healthcare provider to reflect that. If the condition brought about by a fall results in premature death, the relatives may be able to recover compensation for the loss of the relationship they would have otherwise enjoyed with that family member, had the predicted life expectancy been achieved.

Making a Claim

Morton Fraser are experts in medical negligence. We represent individuals and families in pursuing claims relating to a failure to properly formulate and implement care plans and falls-management strategies. If you or your family have been affected by an issue relating to a preventable fall in a hospital or care home setting, we are in a position to advise you on the prospects of successfully making a claim for compensation.

It is important that you seek advice on this process as soon as possible, as the law in Scotland allows a period of three years from when the harm occurred, during which time a claim must be raised on your behalf. If more than three years have passed, the general rule is that the entitlement to pursue a claim for compensation will have expired. Even though three years may appear a sufficient time period within which to raise a claim, it is always better to do it sooner rather than later to allow enough time for vital information, such as medical records, to be gathered and reviewed. Each case will have its own unique facts and circumstances and we will provide specialist, tailored advice from the outset of our involvement in your case.

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