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NHS Trust fined for safety failings

Danny Jewitt was a vulnerable patient Photo: NHS

Medway NHS Foundation Trust has today been sentenced for safety failings after a vulnerable patient died following a fall from a first floor window at Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham. Danny Jewitt, 45, from Gillingham, sustained serious chest injuries in the incident on 10 May 2009 and was pronounced dead later the same day. Maidstone Crown Court today ordered the Trust to pay more than £61,000 in fines and costs for the offence.

The Court heard today (25 January) that he had been admitted to the hospital suffering with alcohol dependency and was prone to confusion. He plunged almost five metres to a flower bed below after falling from a side room window on the Keats ward. An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) established that the window had been left wide-open, and was one of a number of windows on the ward that were unrestricted. Guidance has been in place since 1989 stating that windows in hospitals where there are vulnerable patients should be restricted to a maximum opening of just ten centimetres to prevent falls. HSE also identified that in October 2007 the Department of Health issued an alert requiring all NHS establishments to take action to fit window restrictors before 5 February the following year.

Medway NHS Foundation Trust received this alert and had identified a large number of missing or broken restrictors, but taken no action. In April 2008, the window in the room Mr Jewitt later occupied was flagged as requiring attention, but it was left untouched until his death more than a year later. The Trust, of Windmill Road, Gillingham, was fined £42,000 and ordered to pay £19,073 in costs after pleading guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. Speaking after sentencing, HSE inspector Liz Smith said:“The tragic death of Mr Jewitt was entirely preventable.

The Trust knew the window in his room required urgent attention, and had a suitable restrictor been fitted in a timely manner then he would never have fallen in the way he did.“Fitting window restrictors is a simple, inexpensive job that is proven to save lives. It is vital that all hospitals and care homes protect vulnerable people by ensuring windows open no more than 10cm. “They also need to regularly monitor and maintain existing restrictors to ensure they are working and are in good condition.”Carol Turner, Danny’s partner of 19 years, said: “I have lost someone who was special to me, and made me feel special, and who I love very much.“You don’t expect something like this to happen - Danny went in to the hospital to be cared for. I’m upset that the Trust has not taken the time to formally apologise for what happened, or even sent a letter of condolence.”Statistics show that at least 30 people in healthcare settings have been killed as a result of falls from unrestricted windows in the last ten years. HSE guidance on preventing falls from windows is available here.