NHS faces big fine after nurse attacked by patient

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THE NHS is braced for a huge fine after its failures caused a nurse to be ambushed and subjected to a potentially lethal attack by a dangerous ­schizophrenic.

Magdalene Anderson, an NHS Lothian psychiatric nurse with almost 30 years’ experience in the health service, was jumped on from behind and thrown to the floor before having clumps of hair torn from her scalp, after being sent alone to the Tranent home of her attacker.

During the ordeal, which lasted several minutes, Miss Anderson’s head was shaken by the 58-year-old patient – who had previously attempted to attack another NHS employee with a sharp implement while in Herdmanflat Hospital – before she was able to break free and escape.

The assault led to Miss Anderson suffering distressing flashbacks after the incident.

NHS Lothian yesterday pleaded guilty to two charges brought at Haddington Sheriff Court following an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Gavin Callaghan, for the Crown, said that the health board had not carried out a proper risk assessment for the East Lothian community mental health team, which Miss Anderson was part of, and that a risk assessment for the attacker, who had suffered with psychiatric illness for three decades, had been little more than an inadequate “box-
ticking” exercise.

Only two of 12 team members had up-to-date training for dealing with violent patients and no system was in place for dealing with emergency situations.

Mr Callaghan said Miss Anderson had been the victim of a “violent, unprovoked and sustained attack” and that it had been “a matter of luck rather than planning” that she had been able to get away. It also took NHS Lothian eight months to notify the HSE of the attack – which it was required to do within ten days – after it occurred in March 2009.

A fine, to be decided by ­Sheriff Peter Braid next week, could run into tens of thousands of pounds.

Peter Gray QC, representing NHS Lothian, said failures were a matter of “regret and concern” but argued there were a series of mitigating factors which meant the financial penalty should be kept to a ­minimum. “This is an isolated incident in an organisation which in regard to health and safety is extremely well-run,” he said. “The health board is publicly funded and therefore ­ultimately, it’s the taxpayer who pays.”

daniel.sanderson@edinburghnews.com