Court awards substantial damages for false imprisonment

On 22 January 2019 the High Court held that King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust had falsely imprisoned a 68 year-old-patient, Mrs Esegbona, and on discharge, negligently failed to provide adequate information to the nursing home where she died nine days later after pulling out her tracheostomy tube.

Mrs Esegbona attended the emergency department on 19 October 2010 with shortness of breath and was subsequently admitted. Within seven days, she was medically fit for discharge but then deteriorated. At the point of discharge on 14 June 2011, she was cognitively impaired, required PEG feeding and had been fitted with a tracheostomy.

From mid-February 2011, Mrs Esegbona expressed the wish to have her tracheostomy removed and go home (which was supported by her family). The hospital did not undertake a full mental capacity assessment or hold a best interests meeting which could have led to a trial return home. They did not authorise her continued detention in hospital under the deprivation of liberty safeguard procedures. It was also found that they had intentionally kept the family in the dark about Mrs Esegbona's discharge to a nursing home until the last minute in order to prevent objection. On discharge, they did not inform the nursing home that Mrs Esegbona had wanted to return home, that she had wanted her tracheostomy removed or that she had previously tried to remove it.

While there had been no dispute that the patient was falsely imprisoned the Trust had argued that the case was analogous to Bostridge.

Damages were awarded for:

  • False imprisonment: £15,470 (£130 for each of the 119 days of false imprisonment so approximately £4,000 per month)
  • Pain suffering and loss of amenity: £3,500
  • Aggravated damages: £5,000 (because it was found that the family had deliberately been excluded from the discharge planning process)

Despite the events having taken place eight years ago, this case still serves as timely reminder that failure to follow statutory procedures under the Mental Capacity Act, which is designed to protect patients and involve them in decision-making, can result in substantial damages being awarded.

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