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Knott v Newham Healthcare NHS Trust, High Court

22 October 2002
The issues

Nurse – lifting – manual handling – back injury.

The facts

The Claimant was a Staff Nurse on an acute medical ward. In March 1998, she slipped when getting out of the bath and woke up the next day with severe back pain. She was diagnosed as having damaged her intervertebral discs with neural damage. She had consequently had two operations and was left with continuing pain and discomfort. She argued that she had been required to lift patients without appropriate equipment or assistance or training and that the Defendants were in breach of Regulation 4 of the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992, in that they had an inadequate system for manually handling patients. She further argued that her long-standing degenerative deterioration to her lumbar spine had been accelerated by the process of lifting while she had been employed by the Defendant (for no more than 2 years) and that this has increased the likelihood of a disc protrusion and further injury.

The decision

1. There was only one hoist for use in two wards and that hoist was very often not working.

2. As a result, the Claimant had often to use a draglift, which was inherently unsafe and carried a real risk of injury.

3. The Defendant did not operate any appropriate system for lifting and no real steps were taken to reduce the risk of injury to employees to the lowest level reasonably practicable. The Defendant was therefore in breach of the Regulations.

4. The Claimant was vulnerable to disc prolapse, but the lifting of patients while she had been employed was likely to have damaged the annulus of her discs posteriorily and the disc prolapse and neural damage were the eventual result of that process.

5. The Defendant’s breach of duty caused or materially contributed to the injury. The Claimant succeeded in full.


The Judge appears to have treated this case on an all or nothing basis, which arguably in the light of authorities such as Rahman and Hatton, is the wrong approach. It will be interesting to see what line, if any, the House of Lords takes on this particular point when Barber -v- Somerset County Council is heard next year.

By Mark Fowles.

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