Australia has been in the grip of a flu epidemic over the last few months, leading to the tragic deaths of multiple residents in aged care homes.
One nursing home in Wangaratta, Victoria, reported seven deaths due to influenza last month, as well as another 100 people falling ill.
The St John’s Retirement Village, which is run by the Anglican Church, has approximately 350 residents and staff, meaning almost one-third of the entire facility came down with the bug.
Nursing homes owe their residents a duty of care, so could influenza deaths result in medical negligence claims?
To prove negligence has occurred, claimants have to show that a nursing home breached its duty of care and the plaintiff suffered injuries as a result.
The risk of injury must be foreseeable, not insignificant and a hazard that a reasonable person in the same position would have taken the necessary preventative measures against.
It could be argued that medical practitioners working within aged care homes should be aware of the sizeable risk of flu to elderly residents and implement protocols to minimise these dangers.
Flu has hit Australia particularly hard this year. Nearly 85,000 cases were reported in August alone, according to data from the Immunisation Coalition. To put this in perspective, there were only 90,837 cases in the whole of 2016.
The flu is particularly dangerous for the very young, the elderly and anyone with pre-existing medical conditions. The seven people who died in Wangaratta all had health complaints that made them more susceptible to illness.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has already asked Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy to look into ways of vaccinating aged care staff in the future.
“We cannot continue to have a situation where people whose immunity is already low are at risk from others who may be infected. Our job is to protect those who need our care,” he explained.
In a statement, the Department of Health said there is currently no requirement for aged care workers to be vaccinated.
It added: “Providers have a duty of care to provide the safest possible environment for their residents and carers.”
However, proving negligence may be difficult unless a serious lapse in procedure occurred that can be directly linked to a resident’s illness.
You should contact a medical negligence lawyer to discuss your case and see whether or not pursuing compensation is worthwhile.