Falls and fractures in older people are costly, and often a preventable health issue. Older adults are at increased risk of falling due to their age or co-morbid medical conditions. Thus, hospitals have a duty to carry out a risk assessment for any vulnerable patients that are admitted into their care. In case a hospital fails to do so, there may be grounds to file a compensation claim.
According to School of Health and Social Care and Institute of Health Sciences, University of Reading, London, Accidental falls are very common in older hospital patients – accounting for about 32% of reported adult patient safety incidents in UK National Health Service (NHS) hospitals and occurring with similar frequency in international hospital settings.
How do you define a ‘fall’?
Falls are a prevalent, preventable yet often overlooked cause of injury. A fall refers to an event that causes a person to, accidentally, rest on the ground or lower level, and there is no underlying major intrinsic event (such as a stroke) or overwhelming hazard. People from all age-groups can sustain falls; it is an unfortunate but normal consequence of human anatomy and physiology. However, as people age, they become more susceptible to experience falls. Falls can become recurrent if the causes remain unaddressed and result in injuries, including fatal head injuries and hip fractures.
What are the risk factors for sustaining falls?
Fall incidents are multifaceted and complicated. This is because fall incidents can be linked to a range of risk factors, which often coexist in older people. Researchers have revealed over 25 different risk factors from hundreds of research studies. They include:
- medical conditions (Dementia or Parkinson’s),
- the effect of commonly prescribed drugs, particularly patients taking a combination of drugs (like the medications for depression or cardiovascular disease),
- physiological factors (loss of muscle strength or balance, poor eyesight),
- environmental factors (poor lighting, ill-fitting shoes, slippery surfaces)
- lifestyle (excessive alcohol, physical inactivity)
- history of fall
What complications can result from falls?
Over 50% of falls among older adults result in an injury. Although most injuries are not serious (like contusions, abrasions), fall-associated injuries account for about 5% of hospitalisations in patients ≥ 65. Approximately 5% of falls result in fractures of bones in the arm (humerus or wrist) or pelvic bones. About 2% of falls result in a fracture of the hip bone. Other serious injuries (like cranial fractures and injuries to internal organs) are sustained in about 10% of falls. Some fall-related injuries are fatal. About 5% of older people with hip fractures die during their hospitalisation. The overall mortality rate in the 12 months following a hip fracture ranges from 18-33%.
How common are fall incidents in UK hospital settings?
According to gov.uk, people aged 65 and older have the highest risk of falling; around 1/3rd of people aged 65 and over, and around ½ of the people aged 80 and over, sustain at least one fall event every year. Falling, in this age group has been attributed to pain, distress, injury, loss of independence, loss of confidence, and mortality.
- According to the Public Health Outcomes Framework (PHOF), there were approximately 220,160 emergency hospital admissions related to falls among patients aged 65 and over reported in 2017 to 2018, with around 146,665 (66.6%) of these patients aged 80 and over
- Fall incidents remained the 9th leading cause of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) in England in 2013 and one of the leading causes of injury
- Unaddressed fall hazards in the residential settings are estimated to cost over £435 million for the NHS in England.
- The cumulative annual cost of fragility fractures to the UK has been estimated at £4.4 billion, including £1.1 billion for social care; hip fractures account for approximately £2 billion of this figure.
- The short and long-term prognosis is typically poor for patients sustaining a hip fracture, with an increased 1-year mortality rate of between 18% and 33% and adverse impacts on daily living activities like shopping and social interactions.
- An evaluation of long-term disability revealed that around 20% of hip fracture adults entered long-term care in the first year following the fracture.
- The most commonly reported patient safety incident remains fall in hospitals, with more than 240,000 reported in acute hospitals and mental health trusts in England and Wales.
Do you have a claim?
What kind of medical negligence can result in falls in hospital settings?
- If medical practitioners fail to undertake a falls risk assessment, it may give rise to a claim if the predisposed patient goes on to sustain a fall. A claim could also be filed if a fall could have been prevented if necessary provisions recognised by a risk assessment had been carried out.
- For instance, an effective risk evaluation could result in closer nursing attention for a patient susceptible to falls. This can include ensuring that the patients’ ‘cot sides’ are up on their bed to prevent them from rolling out and falling.
- A moving and handling risk evaluation should also be conducted where a predisposed patient is required to be transferred or moved from one setting to another. Failure to carry out a risk evaluation appropriately can result in a preventable fall injury, and a claim may be filed on these grounds.
- Hospitals also need to ensure that nurses answer to patients’ call bells in a timely manner. If call bells are not answered timely, it is predictable that the patient requesting assistance will try to get out of bed themselves, in most cases, to use the toilet. A claim can be filed on the basis of ineffective assistance to get in and out of bed, which resulted in a fall.
Why should you file for a fall compensation claim?
Keeping all this in mind, it appears only fair that an older person who experiences a fall because somebody else was negligent, should be entitled to make a claim for fall injury compensation. Any rewards will allow them to start putting their life back together. This will also make sure that their financial situation is not worsened by a period of enforced hospitalisation or recovery. This means that any and all costs, which directly resulted from the fall and injury will be reimbursed, and the compensation will also include an amount intended to represent the severity and extent of your injury. As one of the best Medical Negligence Lawyers in the UK, experts at medical solicitors have extensive experience of dealing with claims arising out of avoidable falls in hospitals.
Past Legal Cases for Falls Compensation Claims
These are just a few examples of compensation recovered for our clients relating to falls in hospital claims.
£60,000 to an 81-year-old lady who was left on a commode for over an hour, unable to reach a call bell. This was in the evening, and the nurses forgot about her. Consequently, she fractured her back, trying to get herself back to bed without help.
£31,000 to the family of an elderly lady who fell in hospital and fractured her femur. The surgery required to treat the fracture caused foot drop and loss of mobility. Sadly, this resulted in pressure ulceration, infection, pneumonia, and premature death.
£25,000 of compensation recovered when a fall in the hospital caused ankle and peri-prosthetic knee fractures, which accelerated the need for full-time residential care.