Pensioner, 88, died following escalator fall at Whittington Hospital, inquest told

Whittington Hospital. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Whittington Hospital. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

A man has warned of the dangers escalators pose to vulnerable people after his 88-year-old father died following a fall at the Whittington Hospital last Christmas Eve.

A jury at St Pancras Coroner’s Court ruled the death of David Roberts was an accident after watching CCTV footage of the pensioner falling backwards on the moving escalator at the hospital in Highgate Hill.

The court heard that retired postman and widower Mr Roberts, who lived in Muswell Hill, was “a relatively fit man” for his age and was able to attend his outpatient appointment for a foot ulcer independently and walk with the aid of a stick.

But he died of a brain bleed from the fall three days later after doctors decided against operating on him because of his age.

After the accident, which happened around 9am, Mr Roberts was taken straight to the emergency department of the same hospital, where a CT scan revealed he had a small bleed around the brain.

He had no obvious external injury, and was conscious but complained of drowsiness and was agitated.

The consultant who treated him, Dr Jennings, said that Mr Roberts suffered a type of brain bleed known as a sub-dural haematoma, and that in people of his age, “the survival rate for (such a bleed) is quite low – perhaps as low as 20 per cent”.

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After taking advice from specialists in head injury at the Royal London hospital, Dr Jennings said a “conservative management plan” was decided on for the pensioner, meaning he would be admitted to a ward for monitoring for 48 hours, then discharged if there was no deterioration.

But once on the ward, Mr Roberts began to deteriorate rapidly – but medics took the decision not to take him to surgery.

Dr Jennings told the court it would not have been “in the best interests of the patient” to operate, as it would probably not have saved his life and could have left Mr Roberts with “very significant disabilities.”

Dr Jennings said that Mr Roberts’ deterioration was predictable, given his age and because he was on blood-thinning medication – including aspirin – which makes the blood less “clottable”.

He said: “Every surgeon and physician would recognise there was a risk of deterioration … but what could have been made clearer (in Mr Roberts’ medical notes) is the likelihood of that deterioration”.

Coroner Richard Britain was critical of what he called “a tick box management option” in Mr Roberts’ care plan, and said the trust’s internal investigation had raised concerns over communication between specialists at the Royal London Hospital and staff involved in his care at the Whittington.

The court heard that Mr Roberts, who was anaemic, had probably suffered a dizzy spell which had caused him to fall on the escalator – but his son raised concerns about the appropriateness of having moving staircases in a hospital.

Mike Roberts said: “In a hospital, you are dealing with vulnerable people – children and adults. You have to ask – when is it not appropriate to have an escalator?”

He said that his father was “very alert” and an avid reader, who always had four or five books on the go – usually history books.

Guided by the coroner, the jury concluded that the death was an accident.

A statement from the Whittington Hospital Trust said: “We would like to offer our deepest condolences to the family of Mr Roberts following this very tragic accident.

“Whilst visiting our hospital at the end of December for an outpatient appointment, Mr Roberts tripped and fell when using one of our escalators and sadly later died as a result of his injuries.

“In the days following Mr Roberts’ fall, the health and safety executive conducted a full investigation into the escalators and no faults or failures were found.”

The trust said that since 2012, there have been eight other incidents recorded where people visiting the hospital have tripped on the escalator, although none of these incidents caused harm.

The statement added: “As well as the escalator we also have three lifts in our main hospital reception that are available for patients and visitors to use.”