Storm alert could have saved woman’s life

Lorna Macdonald was in the water for more than 40 minutes

Lorna Macdonald was in the water for more than 40 minutes

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A HEALTH worker who died after her car plunged into a loch during a storm should have been warned not to travel by her NHS employers, a sheriff has ruled.

Lorna Macdonald, 26, a speech and language therapist, died in November 2011 when her car plunged into Loch Nan Uidhean, on Harris, ending upside down in the water, as she drove back from an appointment.

Sheriff David Sutherland has ruled the death could have been avoided.

The therapist had been driving back to Stornoway at about 4pm in torrential rain when she lost control of her Mazda car.Following a lengthy Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) at Stornoway Sheriff Court earlier this year, Sheriff Sutherland yesterday ruled that her death by drowning might have been avoided if her employers at NHS Western Isles had warned her not to travel to the outlying area in severe weather conditions.

The health board had approved a Managing Work- Related Driving Risks policy two months before Lorna’s death.

However, it was not placed on the staff intranet advice service until December 2011, the month after the accident.

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During the inquiry, Lorna’s mother, Peggy Flora Macdonald, said she believed the health board should have “prevented anybody going out in such conditions”. She said: “As soon as they became aware of the conditions they should have stopped people going out.”

Sheriff Sutherland, in his ruling, said: “NHS Western Isles had in place a Home Working Policy, revised in December 2007.One of its policy aims was to ‘make sure that the risk of working alone is assessed in a systematic way and that safe systems and methods of work are put in place to reduce the risk so far as is reasonably practicable’.

“This policy stated ‘All employees undertaking home visits should ensure that there is a designated responsible person who will initiate communications with the person undertaking the home visits when that person does not report or communicate back when expected’.”

The sheriff said the responsibility to identify that person was that of the line manager.

He added: “In addition, [the policy] stated: ‘A diary should be kept by the line manager outlaying all of the visits in which lone working is going to occur’. None of these measures were implemented and are relevant to the circumstances of death.”

Sheriff Sutherland concluded: “These failures, while not justifying a determination that they contributed to the deceased’s death, certainly might have prevented her death if her journey had not been undertaken.

“While every employee has a duty to look after their own health and safety, this does not remove the responsibility of employers.

“Young professionals with a sense of responsibility for their patients will always endeavour to do their best for them. Management has a duty to protect employees from risks resulting from this sense of duty.”

The Tarbert fire crew were the first emergency service to arrive at the scene, but the crew was not trained in water rescue.

Ms Macdonald was in the water for more than 40 minutes after the emergency services arrived at the loch. She was carried out of the car from the loch at 5.05pm but there was no sign of life. She was hooked up to a defibrillator and driven to hospital in Stornoway where she received CPR for 45 minutes. She was pronounced dead later that evening.

A spokeswoman for NHS Western Isles said: “As the case is now subject to legal proceedings it is not possible to comment.” No-one at the family home was available to comment.

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