Compensation award is ‘just the tip of the iceberg’

The success of a nurse who sued her employer for back injuries at work may
open the door to similar claims

Compensation of £414,000 awarded to a senior nurse who suffered serious back
injuries at work is "just the tip of the iceberg", health workers’
union Unison has warned.

Angela Knott, a former nurse at Newham General Hospital in east London, was
awarded the compensation in October at the High Court.

It is believed to be the first time a nurse has successfully sued after
suffering a back injury where there was no specific incident behind it.

Knott told the court how she was in such crippling pain that she was forced
to leave her job. She was also told that because of her injuries – a disc
prolapse, neurological problems, reduced sexual function, a weak leg and
incontinence – she should not have children.

The injuries were blamed on inadequate equipment and a lack of staff at the
hospital, which meant that nurses had sometimes to lift patients by themselves.

The hospital’s Beckton ward, where she worked, was so under-equipped that it
shared one hoist, which was normally broken, with another ward.

Newham Healthcare NHS Trust denied liability but was found by the court to
have failed adequately to protect its staff and patients. The trust is
considering whether to appeal.

Unison National Officer Jon Richards said: "It is a very real problem
if equipment is shared too thinly and if staff have not received proper
training in its use. Staff shortages and the use of agency nurses add to that
risk as staff may be unfamiliar with the equipment on a different ward."

Unison estimates some 3,600 nurses are forced to retire every year because
of back injuries.

The Royal College of Nursing has also been campaigning on this issue, and
estimates 25 per cent of qualified nurses have injured their backs at work. It
recently brought out a guide to help promote best practice.

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