A WOMAN who died after she suffocated when she partly fell out of her bed and became trapped, was the latest victim of a series of tragic accidents involving hospital style beds, an inquest heard.

A jury at Bolton Coroner's Court heard how 13 people have died since 1996 after becoming trapped between the rails of the beds.

The inquest into the death of Jean Higson, aged 64, heard how she had slipped head-first behind her bedside cabinet after falling through a gap in the railings between the side of her bed and the bedhead.

Catherine Willis, from the Health and Safety Executive, went to Mrs Higson's house in Headingly Way, Great Lever, shortly after her death.

She told the inquest that there had been 13 similar fatal accidents where people had become trapped.

Mrs Higson, the former head of English at Hesketh Fletcher High School, Atherton, was discovered with her face against the floor in September 2001.

Paramedics and a doctor were called, who confirmed she was dead. A jury of five men and three women were told how Mrs Higson was fiercely independent and determined to remain in her own home despite the advancement of her illness.

In 1996, a care package was organised for her because she suffered from multiple sclerosis. The package involved daily visits from both district nurses and care workers from Bolton social services and Manchester Care Ltd.

Specialist equipment, including a hospital-style bed and hoist for lifting her was also provided by Bolton Primary Care Trust.

The inquest heard how a gap, the width of a pillow, had been left between the top of the bed rail and the bedhead to allow Mrs Higson access to her bed side cabinet. And although a risk assessment had been done into her safety while using the equipment, it was thought that the risk was minimal.

Care workers told the inquest that Mrs Higson had also been found half out of bed in July last year, with the bed rail loose at one end, but said Mrs Higson would not explain how the accident had happened.

All the care workers and auxiliary nurses stated that they were not aware of any risk assessment done about Mrs Higson and her use of the bed. Prior to her death, none had any training in the correct positioning of the cot sides in relation to the bedhead.

A post mortem examination found that Mrs Higson had suffocated as a result of her fall, which had been caused by her multiple sclerosis. The jury returned a verdict of accidental death.