A young health worker might not have died in a ferocious storm if her employers had warned her not to travel, a sheriff has ruled.
Speech and language therapist Lorna MacDonald was killed in November 2011 when her car plunged into a Western Isles loch during a 65mph rainstorm.
After visiting a client in Leverburgh, the 26-year-old NHS worker, of Cross Street, Stornoway, was driving back to the town in appalling conditions when her Mazda ended up in Loch nan Uidhean on Harris.
A fatal accident inquiry (FAI) was held earlier this year at Stornoway.
Sheriff David Sutherland yesterday ruled that her death by drowning might have been avoided if her employers at NHS Western Isles had advised against travelling to the area in such conditions.
Last night, Miss MacDonald’s mother Peggy said she was “content” with the result of the FAI.
However, it is understood the family is pursuing further legal action.
The FAI heard evidence that the health board had approved a “managing work-related driving risks” policy two months before Miss MacDonald’s death.
However, it was not placed on the staff computer advice service until December 2011, the month after the accident.
Sheriff Sutherland highlighted a series of health board policies which had not been carried out. In his findings, he 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 and ongoing way and that safe systems and methods of work are put in place to reduce the risk so far as is reasonably practicable’.”
Sheriff Sutherland said 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 responsibility to identify that person is that of the line manager”.
The policy stated that a diary should be kept by the line manager laying out all visits in which lone working is going to occur, and that line managers will put in place procedures for checking on staff regularly if they work alone with patients.
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.”
He added: “Young professionals with a sense of responsibility for their clients and 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.”
NHS Western Isles would not comment on a case now subject to legal proceedings.