NHS worker injured by aggressive patient under police supervision loses personal injury case against Police Scotland

NHS worker injured by aggressive patient under police supervision loses personal injury case against Police Scotland

An NHS clinical support worker at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary who was injured by a patient brought in by the police has lost a personal injury case against the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland.

Beverly Gilchrist, aged 57, argued that her injuries were the responsibility in law of the two police officers who were present with the patient and thus the defender was vicariously liable. She sought the sum of £91,006 in damages for psychiatric injury and services.

The case was heard by Sheriff Kenneth Campbell KC in the All-Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court. A Crawford, advocate, appeared for the pursuer and Hastie, advocate, for the defender.

Invitation to assist

On 3 August 2019, the pursuer was working in the Emergency Department of the hospital when a patient, JH, was brought in by ambulance accompanied by two police officers, PC Grant, who was no longer a police officer, and PC Downie. JH, who was under the influence of substances believed to be alcohol and cocaine, was handcuffed throughout his time at hospital and his behaviour was unpredictable and aggressive.

At around 7pm that evening, JH began flailing around and trying to get off a hospital trolley. PC Grant decided to use the fast-strap leg restraints he was carrying to restrain JH and asked for assistance. The pursuer maintained she had been asked to assist, but PC Grant testified that he had applied the straps. While the straps were being applied to JH’s legs he kicked out and struck the pursuer on the left hand and abdomen. She suffered a soft tissue injury to her hand which resolved by late October 2019.

Following the incident, the pursuer developed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and became anxious about leaving home alone. While she was initially able to return to work, she transferred from the Emergency Department to the Minor Injuries Clinic after witnessing an episode involving a disruptive and aggressive patient and feeling unable to continue working there.

It was submitted for the pursuer that the decision to ask the pursuer to participate in the restraint of a violent patient was a positive act by the police officers and consequently was negligent. It was reasonably foreseeable that asking a then-54-year-old female clinical support worker with no training in the application of leg restraints to apply leg restraints to a male patient whose behaviour had been increasingly aggressive, threatening, and violent over an extended period might result in injury.

For the defender it was submitted that the evidence of Mr Grant should be preferred over the pursuer’s account as being more consistent with the evidence of other witnesses as well as a Datix entry made by the pursuer on the day. Further, on the pursuer’s analysis it was not the invitation to assist which made the situation more dangerous but rather her acceptance of that invitation.

Nothing about being involved

In his decision, Sheriff Campbell said of the evidence: “It is common ground that the pursuer suffered an injury, but the circumstances as narrated in evidence by the pursuer on the one hand and the police officers on the other, differed in a number of important ways. Having considered the evidence and submissions, I have come to the conclusion that the defender’s version of events, as contained in the evidence of PC Downie and Mr Grant (PC Grant as he then was), is to be preferred.”

Explaining his reasoning, he said: “Mr Grant was clear both in examination in chief and cross examination, that while he did ask for assistance in getting the fast-strap restraints out of his belt pouch, he would not, and did not, ask one of the NHS staff to put them on to JH. Both PC Downie and Mr Grant’s oral evidence was consistent with the record of events in PC Grant’s police notebook entry which was made within an hour of the events taking place.”

He went on to say: “On the other hand, the pursuer’s account of events in the history given to the various medical expert witnesses has varied in some important respects from her oral evidence in court. Perhaps most significantly, she said nothing about being involved in restraining JH, as opposed to being kicked by him, or about how her left hand injury was associated with the kick from JH. The pursuer had no satisfactory explanation for that in her oral evidence.”

On causation, Sheriff Campbell concluded: “While I accept that the pursuer was struck by JH when he kicked out while being restrained, I do not accept that injury happened because she was applying the restraint straps to JH’s legs. I do not accept the pursuer’s evidence that she was doing so. Nor do I accept that she was instructed, or even merely invited, to apply the straps to JH by the defender’s officers. In terms of legal duty, therefore, I hold that the pursuer was injured in the course of her employment by the acts of JH.”

The sheriff therefore assoilzied the defender, having found causation not to be established.

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