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Inquest Verdict Sparks Hospital Safety Calls

Repeated falls at hospital highlight safety flaws


A York family is calling for improvements in safety for elderly hospital patients after a coroner today recorded a verdict of accidental death following the death of an 83-year-old woman who fell repeatedly from her hospital bed.

Joan Wheel was admitted to the hospital in November 2007 after developing leg ulcers from a set of insect bites. She was also suffering from mild confusion. She died six days later on the 26th November 2007 after suffering a series of falls at York Hospital.

York Hospitals Foundation Trust has since admitted liability and issued an apology.

The coroner, Mr Donald Coverdale concluded that that Mrs Wheel died as a result of injuries sustained at York Hospital.

Commenting on today’s verdict on behalf of the family their solicitor, Margaret Poyner from the Leeds office of national law firm Irwin Mitchell, said: "This is an extremely sad case where an elderly lady - who up until this point had led a happy and healthy life caring for herself at her daughter’s home - died as a result of the hospital’s failure to follow its own policies.

“Understandably Terrance Wheel, Joan’s son and her daughter, Carolyn Wheel, have been devastated by their mother’s death. Over the past 18 months they have been searching for answers as to why she died six days after being admitted to hospital with a non-life threatening condition.

”Irwin Mitchell has successfully completed a civil claim on behalf of the family and the York Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has admitted that the standard of care they provided to Mrs Wheel ‘fell below that to be reasonably expected’ and that this ‘caused her to fall whilst on the ward’. They further admitted that the haematoma suffered as a result of her falls subsequently caused her death. A written apology from the trust has been received for the family and with this and the conclusion of the inquest they now hope to move on from the heartbreaking events of November 2007.

“While the inquest today established some of the circumstances surrounding Joan’s tragic death, they feel that many questions remain unanswered and are concerned that other elderly patients may suffer if NHS working practices such as these are not investigated further and subsequently reviewed.

“After being aware of the first falls her family asked for bed rails to be fitted to her bed. They feel that if this had been done that their mother’s final and ultimately fatal fall could have been avoided. They are staggered that her mobility needs were not addressed and that no assessments were made.

“The Wheel family feel that much more needs to be done to ensure that hospitals are not only developing policies to protect patient safety but that they are being implemented and adhered to on a daily basis to ensure that other tragedies are avoided.”

The inquest heard that on admittance and during her stay at York hospital no falls assessment or bed rail assessment was completed with Mrs Wheel despite her mobility being listed on her notes as a key referral reason by her GP and her family repeatedly requesting that she be given a walking frame as she had been using one six weeks prior to this.

On several occasions she was found by both her family and hospital staff to be wandering the corridors confused and disorientated and without any walking aid and in the days leading up to her death a fellow patient witnessed her fall out of bed on two different nights.