Falls and COVID-19

Falls are often the subject of civil litigation or statutory investigation in the social care sphere, in particular when dealing with elderly residents.   We often see claims for falls arising from differing scenarios.  A fall may occur in a residential home setting or at home, whether there is domiciliary care involved or not.  A fall can lead to various serious consequences for the elderly such as a stay in hospital which may cause a decline in a person’s general health, increase the risk of contracting infections, decline in physical abilities and acceleration of the onset of dementia.  And a person’s care requirements are likely to be increased by the fall – for example residential care may be required where it was not previously. 

A recent report by Independent Living highlights the statistics on falls and how investment in falls prevention can reduce hospital admissions and expenditure (See here Why more falls? | Post | Independent Living), which highlights that an increase in falls in the elderly may be linked to cuts in social care funding. 

So how is the COVID-19 pandemic likely to affect falls in the elderly and any ensuing claims or statutory investigations?  There are likely to be wide ranging effects.  For example, if an elderly person has contracted the COVID-19 virus, then this may cause delirium or confusion which in turn may lead to a higher risk of falls.  

An indirect effect is that residential settings will have had to change their normal way of operating due infection control purposes such as not allowing visitors, keeping residents isolated in one part of the home or on one floor, changes in layout for infection control purposes and staff wearing PPE.  That in turn may cause confusion or agitation for residents which might lead to a risk of falls. And of course, there may be staff changes or shortages due to staff sickness along with self-isolation which may have meant that residents may not be supervised as closely as usual. 

Ensuring a resident can move around freely and the need to provide some restrictive measures to reduce the risk of falls has always been a very difficult balancing act. In addition even before the pandemic a resident’s mobility can change and evolve on an almost daily basis. Managing those changing needs and being mindful of the continuing risks of falls along with the further difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic will no doubt have been a challenge. How this may be reflected in litigation only time will tell? 

Jennifer Johnston at BLM jennifer.johnston@blmlaw.com

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