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Failures in Jersey’s Health & Social Services Department
contributed to the death of a mentally ill resident

Case briefing: Attorney General v States Employment Board [2017]JRC132

Facts

Members of the public should be reassured by the Attorney General’s decision to make the States of Jersey criminally accountable for failures in its health and safety procedures.

Earlier this year the Royal Court sentenced the States Employment Board (SEB) for a breach of the Health and Safety (Jersey) Law 1989 (the “Law”), which resulted in the avoidable death of a mentally ill resident at Rosewood House. Although the case was heard in August of this year, the court has now published its judgment Attorney General v States Employment Board [2017] JRC132.

The court heard how two nurses employed by the SEB failed to read the resident’s care plan which would have put them on notice of information crucial to the safe handling of the resident. To make the culpability of the SEB worse it was apparent the two nurses had not been provided with sufficient training in the correct operation of the hoist they were using to help bath the resident. Tragically these failures led to the resident falling from the hoist and sustaining serious head injuries that ultimately led to her death.

Decision

The Attorney General used the power he has pursuant to article 21 of the law to prosecute the SEB as the employer of the nurses. It appears the case against the SEB was that it had ultimately breached Article 5 by failing to reasonably protect the resident from the nurses’ conduct. The judgment records that the SEB accepted the Health and Social Services Department staff had been inadequately trained and that the department had allowed poor procedures to be established.

The SEB’s employees work in all States’ departments and the court noted that although it had been prosecuted before, it was the first time the Health and Social Services Department had been held accountable. Despite recognising the department’s steps to remedy the deficiencies the court could not overlook the persistent lack of awareness in relation to the risk the hoist posed to residents and the fact that such ignorance ultimately resulted in the avoidable death of a resident who deserved competent and well informed care.

The SEB was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 towards the prosecution costs. This sentence may seem lenient to some, particularly as this fine may well be paid by the SEB’s insurers. However the SEB may suffer in other ways too, although this may bring little comfort to the relatives of the deceased. This conviction offers analysis of the SEB’s duties that will make it easier in the future to advance a civil claim against it, although as with other such claims what it will be worth will depend very much on the personal circumstances of the deceased.

If you or any of your relatives are harmed whilst under the care of a responsible third party, that person, as the employer of the individuals at fault, may be responsible for any negligent care given. Viberts’ personal injury team will be able to consider the facts with you and advise on whether the loss suffered might give rise to a claim.

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