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How safe are you in hospital?

View profile for Pauline Smith
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I read an article in the tabloids last week which said that Blackpool and Wyre NHS Trust had started a scheme whereby they issued slippers to all their in-patients as a result of them having many claims made against the Trust because of patients falling on their highly polished floors.  Whilst this has been taken slightly out of context by the newspaper in question, my research has noted that the Trust did indeed launch a "Slipper Squad" initiative last year, to reduce the number of patient falls.  This scheme involves ensuring that all in-patients and their families are given advice on what is considered suitable non-slip footwear, that the areas around the patient's beds are kept free of hazards, and that patients who have been assessed as being at high risk of falls are checked upon every hour.

This initiative has seen a significant reduction in the amount of in-patient falls in that particular Trust, but are all hospitals as pro-active?  Statistics taken from the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) show that, in an average 800 bed Acute Trust, around 24 falls are recorded per week - that is over 1260 patient falls per year on average.  The cost of treating the injuries caused by these falls, and providing the extra assistance amounts to a minimum of £92,000 per year for each Trust.

Every patient, when being admitted as an in-patient must have a care plan drawn up to assess their needs whilst in hospital.  Sadly, many of the people who fall are often elderly people who have mobility problems.  Whilst in an ideal world, there would be sufficient staff to help those with mobility problems to the bathroom, for example, realistically, wards are often short staffed, and patients are forced to wait for long periods of time between checks by staff.  I can speak from first hand experience, as my own late mum, who could not walk unaided, was put in a private room during one of her hospital stays, due to contracting MRSA.  I was shocked when visiting her one night to see her face and arm covered in bruises due to falling whilst trying to get herself off a commode and back into bed, as no-one had come to help her, despite pressing her "Call" button.  She had been left for over 45 minutes.

We have successfully acted for a number of patients who have been admitted to hospital, and then have suffered falls and sustained injuries, such as fractured limbs. Largely, this seems due to the fact that care plans regarding patient's mobility needs are just not adhered to, whether this be due to staff shortages, or the fact that staff on changeover of rotas simply do not familiarise themselves with each patient's care plan.

Many Trusts have signed up to a "Transparency Project"  which details all aspects of their performance over recent years.  One of the statistics recorded is how many falls their patients have had per year.  These statistics can be found on each Trust's website, and make interesting reading.

By personal injury executive, Pauline Smith