The Health and Safety Executive have announced that Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust is to face prosecution following the death of diabetic patient Gillian Astbury in April 2007, who died due to the failure of two nurses to administer insulin.

The Trust is to be prosecuted by the HSE under section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 for failing to comply with the general duty imposed on all organisations, to conduct their undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that employees and other persons (not being their employees) but who may be affected are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.

The HSE began its investigation earlier this year following the conclusion of the Public Inquiry into the failings of the Trust. The HSE have highlighted that the Trust ‘failed to devise, implement or properly manage structured and effective systems of communication for sharing patient information’. The HSE head of operations in the West Midlands stated that ‘there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to bring criminal proceedings in this case.’

The HSE’s decision to prosecute is notable as historically, it is particularly rare for the HSE to bring prosecutions against the NHS for want of patient care. However, in July 2012 a joint investigation led by the HSE and local authority also resulted in the prosecution of an NHS Trust as a result of health and safety failings.  Along with the owner of a care home, the trust was found guilty under s.3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, resulting in a fine with costs totaling over £890,000, following the fatal stabbing of a care worker.

It is suggested that while these cases have been relatively rare in the past, recent developments are an indication of the HSE’s widening approach to enforcement action.  The first hearing will take place at Stafford Magistrates’ Court on 9 October.