Around half of a sample of 114 NHS trusts in England have reportedly expressed concern about risks to patients, staff and visitors from inadequate building maintenance and staff shortages. The reports follow a political analysis, undertaken by the Labour Party, based on risk registers the trusts completed, raising questions about the safety of individuals on NHS-owned properties.

Like any occupier of premises, NHS trusts owe lawful visitors a legal duty to take reasonable care in order to ensure their safety. Occupiers should devise and follow appropriate procedures to review the safety of their premises, identify all potential risks and determine what action is needed to mitigate those hazards. They should inspect properties and sites as part of a continuing programme of review and assessment, so that existing risks are re-assessed and addressed if they get worse, and to make sure any new risks are identified and managed. This extends not only to risks arising from the fabric of a building, but also transient risks, like spillages. The duty to inspect, and how often, will depend on a combination of factors, including the nature of the risk, the likelihood of it causing injury and the place it occurs .

Where occupiers fail in that duty, they put individuals at risk. Patients, staff and visitors who suffer injury as a result may well have a valid legal claim. The personal injury team at Penningtons Manches Cooper has advised in claims against a wide range of occupiers, including hospitals, as a result of unacceptable failures to monitor and maintain premises, leading to sometimes catastrophic injuries on the part of patients, staff and other visitors.

Senior associate Andrew Clayton comments: “There is an inevitable tension between the costs of maintaining and repairing the fabric of large and complex buildings, like hospitals - particularly in the context of considerable wider pressures on public finances - and the potential harm that individuals might suffer if a risk were to materialise and cause injury.

“The cost to an individual of a serious injury, however, can be devastating: affecting their physical and emotional health, personal life and ability to work. In the most serious of cases, involving fatal or catastrophic injuries, both the financial and intangible costs can be huge, often far outweighing the cost that would have been associated with correcting the original hazard. All occupiers – NHS trusts included – must ensure that their protocols take account of the damage that these risks can cause and take commensurate steps to protect the safety of all visitors.”