Analysis

Workplace safety remains a concern as staff injury bill tops £47 million

The overall bill for compensation payments and legal costs for NHS staff injuries last year was £47.5 million, Nursing Standard can reveal.

The overall bill for compensation payments and legal costs for NHS staff injuries last year was £47.5 million, Nursing Standard can reveal.


Injuries resulted from a variety of causes including falls, manual handling and stress. Picture: iStock

Employers have been urged to improve health and safety at work, as new figures reveal the overall cost of injury compensation claims by NHS staff last year was £47.5 million.

There were 2,889 non-clinical claims brought by NHS staff in 2015-16, according to figures obtained by Nursing Standard from the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA), which handles negligence and other claims against the NHS in England.

The £47.5 million amount includes compensation paid out to claimants, plus all associated legal costs for both the claimant and defence.

Claims ranged from straightforward slips and trips to serious workplace manual handling injuries, and those related to bullying and stress.

Orthopaedic injuries were the most common claims made by staff, accounting for 73% of NHS staff claims in 2015-16.

A total of 2,889 non-clinical claims were brought by NHS staff in England in 2015-6, according to the NHSLA figures.

Range of injuries 

However, there has been a fall in the number of compensation claims compared with the previous year. NHSLA data reveals there were 3,425 claims made by staff in 2014-15, resulting in £57.9 million in compensation payouts and legal costs. 

Under the Freedom of Information Act, Nursing Standard has surveyed more than 100 NHS trusts and boards on the number and nature of compensation claims made by staff – and the level of payouts – between 2011 and 2016.

Injuries ranged from electric shocks from medical equipment, including one sustained while resuscitating a patient, to arms being trapped in patient trolleys, and falls in car parks.

A staff member attacked by a dog during a home visit to a patient is among claims closed without compensation by the NHSLA. Another closed case includes a housekeeper who claimed a can of coke exploded in a jug, causing soup to spill on them.

Employer responsibility

RCN senior employment relations adviser Kim Sunley says while staff have a duty to follow processes, including reporting near-misses, the primary responsibility for their health and safety lies with their employers.

Ms Sunley adds: ‘I think the pendulum has swung too much towards well-being initiatives to lead healthy lifestyles. There’s an attitude that staff health and safety is a given and something we don’t have to worry about. Yet slips, trips, falls, back injuries and assaults are all happening on a daily basis.’

Nursing Standard’s investigation showed £612,930 was paid out in compensation claims against North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust from 2011-16. These include a nurse who received £150,000 after fracturing an ankle when they slipped on a wet floor, and another nurse who injured their foot when an unsecured oxygen cylinder fell on it, resulting in a £1,800 pay out.

The trust’s associate director of support services Ian Clough says every effort is made to prevent injuries as a result of accidents at work.

73% 

of these claims were related to orthopaedic injuries. The trust’s associate director of support services Ian Clough says every effort is made to prevent injuries as a result of accidents at work.

Action taken 

‘Inevitably, accidents do occasionally happen and when they do, each incident is investigated appropriately so that we can learn lessons to help prevent them from happening again,’ he says.

‘We ensure our staff receive appropriate training to help avoid accidents at work and we ensure that staff who have been injured at work receive appropriate support from our occupational health and well-being team.’

Between 2011-16, there were 27 claims for compensation by staff at the Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust, costing £237,955. Claims included burns, scalds, orthopaedic and internal injuries to nurses.

Nursing Standard also surveyed organisations on the action taken to reduce future injury following each incident. Bath, for example, redesigned the trust car park after an incident inwhich a nurse sustained an orthopaedic injury.

Staff assaults 

Assaults on staff by patients also feature highly among the claims for compensation.

A nurse working for Black Country Partnership NHS Foundation Trust was assaulted by a patient, resulting in a £46,788 compensation payment. Compensation for claims against the trust over the five years was £221,626.

Greenwich University senior lecturer Terry Ferns, who teaches conflict resolution and tackling violence, says the best predictor of violence by a patient is their history. However, he says knowledge of this is dependent on incident forms having been filled out in the past.

£150,000 

compensation paid to North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust nurse who fractured an ankle when they slipped on a wet floor.

He says that evidence suggests more junior staff tend to be assaulted.

‘Experienced staff can assess and manage a patient and use their communications skills to not put themselves in danger,’ he says. ‘Aggressors are more likely to come out of a difficult consultation with a consultant or GP and take it out on the hospital porter, receptionist or junior nurse or doctor, due to the power dynamic.’

Manual handling claims 

Manual handling or moving of loads are also responsible for a significant number of claims.

These include a healthcare assistant at Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust, who was awarded £85,000 compensation after injuring their back at work. The trust says the incident resulted in a change to the storage of fluids.

Birmingham City University’s associate professor in clinical biomechanics and musculoskeletal injury prevention Stephen Wanless says lower back and neck problems are the most common in health workers.

Dr Wanless runs a moving and handling course for healthcare students that encourages them to think about posture, the importance of maintaining a neutral spine, keeping loads close to their body and avoiding twisting motions.

It also teaches students to be more careful about their posture when engaged in everyday activities at home, such as loading a washing machine, watching television and even brushing their teeth.

The number of injuries to students while on placement has fallen by 92% since the programme started in 2009.

Dr Wanless says teaching these postural tips will ‘develop good habits for life’, and has the potential to save the NHS millions.

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