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Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

Louise Stark v Lothian Health Board [2018] SC EDIN 7

This case concerned an attack by a patient on a psychiatric staff nurse at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. The nurse raised an action against her employers in the All Scotland Personal Injury Court. Following a proof, Sheriff Braid pronounced decree of absolvitor.

The patient had a history of physical aggression towards staff. The attack occurred while the pursuer was supervising the patient for an art session. She was not based at the hospital, but had come to the ward to provide the session. However, she had trained at the hospital and had worked with the patient often in the past. During the session, the patient grabbed the pursuer and bit her arm. The patient’s Care Plan provided that two staff members should be present during the session. The pursuer alleged that a nursing assistant had been present at the start of the session, but that he left the room to assist with an incident outside the room, involving another patient. She suggested that her colleague’s departure had been the trigger for the attack. Conversely, the nursing assistant said that he had been standing at the entrance to the room throughout the session and that he had come to the pursuer’s aid as soon as the attack occurred. The nursing assistant’s account was corroborated by two other members of staff who were positioned near to the entrance to the room at the time.

The pursuer contended that (i) the nursing assistant had breached the Care Plan by leaving the room; (ii) the ward had been understaffed; and (iii) the Care Plan and Risk Assessment in place did not adequately specify the role of peripatetic staff members who were unfamiliar with the patient. The sheriff found the pursuer to be unreliable and rejected her suggestion that the nursing assistant had left the room in order to assist with another incident. He held that the case of understaffing had not been made out and he concluded that the Risk Assessment and Care Plan adequately specified the pursuer’s role.

During the proof the pursuer led evidence under reservation to support possible alternative cases that the nursing assistant had been in the room but incorrectly positioned, or that he had should have intervened more quickly. The sheriff ultimately sustained objections to these lines of evidence and confirmed that the parties must provide fair notice of their cases, even when the pleadings are abbreviated.

The pursuer’s case also failed on causation as it was not possible to say what had prompted the patient to attack the pursuer or that the nursing assistant could have prevented the attack if he had been in the room.

Charles Lugton of Compass Chambers appeared for the defender.

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