NHS trust being fined over patient death is ‘significant landmark’ case, says Eversheds

Eversheds associate Andrew Bennett has commented on news that Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust has been fined for health and safety breaches.

Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust was fined £200,000 for health and safety breaches over the death of a diabetic patient. The trust was also ordered to pay £27,000 in legal costs. Gillian Astbury, 66, died at Stafford Hospital in April 2007 after two nurses failed to give her insulin.

Bennett described this case as ‘a significant landmark in the history of the Health and Safety Executive’s [HSE’s] scrutiny and prosecution of healthcare organisations, and may lead to an even greater focus on this sector by the HSE’.

According to Bennett, the prosecution and sentence of the trust is significant for a number of reasons. ‘Traditionally, the HSE has tended to prosecute healthcare bodies for technical health and safety offences relating to healthcare equipment, fire safety, risk assessments concerning building design or under specific health and safety regulations such as those concerning manual handling, asbestos or falls from height and not for failures relating to the provision of healthcare.

‘Therefore, the HSE’s decision to prosecute Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust for failures relating purely to the provision of healthcare by medical professionals could mark a dramatic shift in the HSE’s enforcement strategy in this sector.’

He also noted that recent Court of Appeal decisions have been quoted in sentencing courts all around the UK: ‘Large organisations can now expect much higher fines for breaches of health and safety in cases involving both fatal and non-fatal incidents.

‘Fines must be large enough to send a message to owners, shareholders, senior managers and directors of organisations. Other cases have given a clear steer that these principles will also be applied to large organisations in the public sector.

‘After the sentence given to the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, we can be in no doubt that the courts will have confidence to be strong in delivering large financial penalties to healthcare organisations for health and safety breaches in the future.’