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NHS prosecuted after pensioner killed in mobility scooter plunge

Date:
15 January 2016

The NHS Litigation Authority has been prosecuted after an 82 year old man fell 12 feet to his death from an elevated walkway outside a health centre.

Benjamin John Withers from Fareham in Hampshire died after the mobility scooter he was driving collided with a wooden weather screen which was situated around the main entrance and access bridge to Fareham Health centre. The collision caused a section to give way and Mr Withers and his mobility scooter fell through the gap onto a walkway below.

Portsmouth Crown Court heard that on 20th September 2012 Mr Withers left the centre after attending an appointment and accidentally drove his mobility scooter forward into the side of the glazed screen instead of reversing away from it.  After the initial impact he then moved forward again and fell through the opening in the screen which had partially given way.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found the barrier had not been constructed to the required standard to resist impact from a mobility scooter, no assessment had been made to consider the suitability of the weather screen and the structure had not been adequately maintained.

The investigation also found that the collapsed section was so badly decayed that portions of the wood could be easily removed by hand. Planned maintenance work to replace the rotten wood had been cancelled and rescheduled on more than twenty occasions without ever being carried out.

NHS Litigation Authority of Buckingham Palace Road London, pleaded guilty to breaching s.3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 and was fined £40,000 and ordered to pay £15,000 costs.

Speaking after the hearing Mr Wither’s son Trevor spoke on behalf of his family: “This has been a traumatic event for all my family, due to these breaches in health and safety our family has lost a devoted husband, father and grandfather.

“My Mother has lost a husband and a major part of her life, this has affected her deeply, she has not been able to visit her local shopping centre or walk past her local surgery where my Dad died.  The centre is also close to my brother’s place of work and he has to see it every day.

“My Dad was full of life, I will never forget that sunny day on September 20th 2012 when me and my nephew last saw him going into Fareham Health Centre, I  never thought that this would be the last time we would ever see him.”

HSE Inspector Michael Baxter said: “This tragic incident could have easily been avoided if the barrier at Fareham Health Centre had met the well-known and established standards for design and construction of barriers and if the required maintenance had been carried out as soon as it was identified.

“Instead a family has lost a well-loved husband and father. Mobile scooters are being used increasingly, especially in pedestrian areas. Businesses need to appreciate this and ensure existing structures and barriers are re-assessed to ensure they are suitable for these machines.”

The British Standard BS6180:2011 ‘Barriers in and about buildings – code of practice’ can be found here http://www.freestd.us/soft/259378.htm

Notes to Editors:

  1. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice, promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice, and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. More about the legislation referred to in this case can be found at: www.legislation.gov.uk/
  3. HSE news releases are available at  http://press.hse.gov.uk
  4. Fareham Health centre was owned at the time of the incident by NHS Hampshire and let out to NHS Portsmouth, but these bodies were abolished in 2013. The NHS Litigation Authority has taken on criminal litigation for the abolished health bodies.
  5. Following the implementation of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, on 31/3/13 all Primary Care Trusts (‘PCTs’) in England were dissolved and the NHS Litigation Authority assumed the undischarged criminal liabilities of such PCTs.  In this case the PCTs concerned were Portsmouth City Teaching Hospitals Primary Care Trust and Hampshire Primary Care Trust (‘the former PCTs’).

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