A jury at Luton Crown Court found Hertfordshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust guilty of offences under Health & Safety legislation, following the murder of a care home worker by a patient whom the Trust had placed at the home. Both the Trust and the care home owner were prosecuted and convicted. The judge sentenced the Trust to pay a fine of £150,000 and also ordered it to pay costs of £326,346. The care home owner was fined £75,000 and ordered to pay costs of nearly £339,000.
The Trust had placed a patient with severe mental health difficulties in the care home, following a period when he had been detained under the Mental Health Act. The Trust had never placed a patient there before, and the home had no experience of dealing with such patients. In August 2007, a month after arriving at the home, the patient stabbed a member of staff to death and injured another. In 2009, the patient was ordered to be detained indefinitely after being found unfit to plead given his psychiatric condition. The judge who ordered this detention was severely critical of the decision to place the patient at the home, which he described as "wholly unsuitable" for a patient of this nature. The Health & Safety Executive and local council subsequently investigated the role of the Trust and the care home. Following those investigations, the HSE prosecuted both the owner and the Trust. After a fully contested trial, both were convicted and ordered to pay the sums set out above.
The Trust had breached regulations requiring it to conduct adequate risk assessments, which placed it in breach of section 33 of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It was also convicted of breaching its duty, under section 3 of that Act, to make sure, as far as was reasonably practicable, that people outside of the Trust (in this case care home staff and other residents) were not exposed to risks to their health and safety by the way in which the Trust carried out its business.
Although the HSE does not, in general, investigate matters of clinical judgement or care quality, there have been a growing number of cases where it has become involved and prosecuted healthcare providers. Readers should also be aware that, in respect of offences committed since 2009, the courts now have the power to impose unlimited fines and can imprison individuals who are personally found to be at fault. The fines handed out in this case were under the old sentencing regime and would undoubtedly have been significantly higher if the offences had taken place more recently.