Court of Appeal sides with UNISON member attacked by psychiatric patient after health authorities ignored threats
A social worker stabbed by a psychiatric patient for whose child she was responsible, has won her case at the Court of Appeal, giving her the right to sue two health authorities responsible for her attacker’s care.
UNISON member Claire Selwood was stabbed six times by Graham Burton, of Murton, after he confronted her during a professional conference at his child’s school in County Durham. Just two days earlier he had told medical staff at Cherry Knowle Hospital, Sunderland that he would kill her on the spot if he saw her. This was the last of a number of threats that were not acted upon.
Her attacker left the 42-year-old mother of three for dead. She suffered life-threatening injuries and was profoundly traumatised by her ordeal.
If the case is ultimately successful, it could result in every NHS Trust and local authority being required to check that threats against the personal safety of social workers and other vulnerable lone workers are made known to all parties, taken seriously and acted on, says trade union UNISON.
UNISON Northern regional secretary Gill Hale said: “The attack on Claire was shocking, but also shocking is the fact that it could and should have been prevented. Threats had been made by Burton on several occasions but Ms Selwood was never warned that her life might be in danger. We welcome today’s decision, which could lead improved safety for lone workers like Claire.
“Organisations such as local authorities and NHS Trusts must protect vulnerable workers in the workplace. There must be procedures when threats are made against staff that work for or with them.
“Organisations working in partnership with social workers and other vulnerable workers must be required to do a ‘Selwood Check’ to make sure that any threats made to employee’s lives are taken seriously and acted on.
“We will continue to support Claire in her fight for justice and demand that measures be put in place to avoid this type of preventable, disturbing attack happening again.”
Claire Selwood said: “This has been a difficult time and I am very grateful for the help and assistance I have received from UNISON.”
Following the attack UNISON took up her case and began a claim for compensation against Ms Selwood’s employer Durham County Council, and the Tees Esk and Wear Valley NHS Trust and Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust.
The case against the two NHS Trusts was dismissed by Newcastle County Court on the grounds they did not owe Ms Selwood a duty of care, but she was given leave to appeal.
Yesterday the Court of Appeal accepted it was arguable the two NHS Trusts did owe her a duty of care based on their responsibilities under an agreed protocol. Ms Selwood can now continue the claim against her employer and the NHS Trusts.
If the case is ultimately successful, it would reinforce the need for every NHS Trust and other relevant authorities to fulfil their obligations under the ‘working together’ protocol.
Following the attack UNISON instructed legal experts Thompsons Solicitors to advise Ms Selwood.
Mick Laffey from Thompsons said: “The Court of Appeal decision highlights the importance of social services and NHS Trusts communicating with each other to protect the lives of vulnerable workers. It is not good enough to pay lip service to health and safety.”
Burton was jailed indefinitely in June 2007 for the attempted murder of Ms Selwood. An independent inquiry found a ‘complete failure’ by medical staff to warn her of any danger.
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