BMI Healthcare Limited has received a £100,000 fine following the death of an elderly patient who fell from a balcony of his first floor room at Shelburne Hospital. He had been suffering from post-operative confusion and was left unsupervised.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the hospital had failed to assess the risks of patients falling from balconies in private rooms, or had failed to take adequate measures to control this risk. BMI Healthcare pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. This establishes a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that non-employees are not exposed to risks to their health and safety. The company was also ordered to pay costs of £29,447.

HSE’s Inspector Robert Meardon, stated that given the history of vulnerable patients falling from windows and balconies “…there is no excuse for duty holders to fail to manage these risks”.

The Department of Health (DH) provided some guidance regarding window safety in the 2007 alert, DH (2007) (09). The “never events” list published by the DH, available here, also includes falls from unrestricted windows.

Whilst guidance is available it is not prescriptive. Providers will need to ensure that they consider carefully what is reasonably practicable across the entire estate and have regard to the risks posed by different groups of patients.