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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

Health and safety horrors in care homes

Fatal falls

Caring Homes Healthcare Group Ltd, the owner and manager of the Coppice Lea Nursing Home in Surrey, was fined £450,000 in 2017 after the death of a resident. In October 2013 an 87-year old woman was a resident at the home. She fell four metres through her window, suffering fatal injuries. The window restrictor in place was easily overridden and was not fit for purpose. All windows which are large enough for people to fall through should be restrained sufficiently to prevent falls. The benchmark of 100 mm should only be allowed to disengage using a special tool or key.

In October 2010 Patrick Foale, aged 75, was living at the Redmount Nursing Home in Devon. He fell down a flight of stairs in his wheelchair when he accessed a staircase after a fire door had been left open. He suffered fatal injuries. Foale spent much of his time in his own room on the first floor of the nursing home. He was capable of moving freely around the home in his wheelchair. The nursing home was aware that he had deteriorating eyesight and had been suffering periods of disorientation.The nursing home had failed to carry out a suitable risk assessment for him, had neglected to make provision for his deteriorating eyesight and did not act on his apparent disorientation. Your Health Ltd, the operator of the Home, was fined £110,000 plus £26,000 costs.

In November 2010 Olga Llewellyn, a 92-year old resident at the Brocastle Manor Care Home, Bridgend, suffered fatal injuries when she fell from her bedroom window. All the windows at the home were fitted with the same type of window restrictors. These were unsuitable because they could be easily overridden and the windows opened wide. Haford Care Association, the operator of the Home, was fined £96,000.Between 2005 and 2010 there were 21 fatal accidents from falls from windows.

Kenneth Terrey, a dementia sufferer aged 74, was a resident at the Paternoster House Care Home in Essex. In March 2011 Terrey tried to leave the dementia unit. He climbed out of a window and fell to the ground. He suffered fatal injuries. At the time of the incident, a window restrictor, which would have prevented the window opening fully, was not working. Staff at the home had not been properly trained in how to carry out proper window safety checks and no window management safety system was in place. Barchester Healthcare Homes Ltd, the operator of the Home, was fined £175,000.

In December 2012 a 63-year old man, a resident of the Nada Residential and Nursing Home in Manchester, suffering from dementia, was found below his bedroom window suffering from multiple fractures. He told staff that he wanted to get some fresh air. The risk of residents falling from open windows was well known in the care home sector. The windows should have been fitted with restrictors to prevent them opening more than ten centimetres. The care home had failed to properly assess the risk of residents falling from windows and had not taken suitable action to prevent this happening. The Home was fined £8000 plus £597 costs.

Falls from hoists

In August 2010 May Ward, aged 100, was being moved by two carers at the Meppershall Care Home in Bedfordshire. She fell from a hoist and suffered multiple fatal injuries. The two carers had been employed for less than a year. The hoist used to move Mrs Ward had a complex operating procedure and the carers had not been trained in how to use it safely. The hoist was not recommended by the local authority as being suitable for Mrs Ward’s condition. She was not securely positioned and when she moved forwards she fell out.

There was a history of serious safety breaches at the Home. The HSE had served five improvement notices between October and December 2010 related to resident handling, risk assessment and a lack of competent health and safety advice. Another resident had suffered leg fractures after falling when being moved from a wheelchair to an armchair in September 2009.

Mohammed Zarook, the director of the company which owns the Home, had no knowledge or experience of running care homes. He proceeded to take vulnerable residents into his three care homes. There was no evidence that he had taken steps to fulfil his health and safety obligations through the provision of training and the management of risks most commonly associated with the care industry, including resident handling.

The Care Quality Commission had inspected the Home and had given it poor ratings. The Home was closed in July 2013. GA Projects Ltd, the company which owned the Home, was fined £50,000 plus £36,000 costs. Zarook was fined £150,000 plus £100,000 costs.

In June 2013 Joseph Hobbin, who suffered from cerebral palsy and epilepsy, was assisted into a bath in his home by a care worker employed by Ark Housing Association Ltd. As his legs were lowered into the bath he suffered an epileptic fit. His legs remained in the water and he sustained extensive scalding to his feet and lower legs. He died in hospital.

Mr Hobbin needed support in all aspects of day to day living. The local authority contracted Ark to provide his care. Ark had not provided care workers with training or instruction in relation to bath and shower temperature. The company was not aware of guidance in relation to safe bathing. It did not provide thermometers to staff and did not carry out adequate risk assessments in relation to the bathing of service users, including the deceased. Ark Housing Association was fined £75,000.

In April 2008 an 87-year old dementia sufferer was being cared for by the Kent and Medway NHS Social Care Partnership Trust at a Unit in Sittingbourne. As he was being bathed he slipped from a hoist and fell, suffering fatal injuries. The HSE investigation found that there was poor communication between the nursing staff and the agency care workers. The care plan was unclear and was not shared with agency carers. There had been no consideration of the risk of using a bathroom in another ward which precluded active supervision of the agency workers. The Trust was fined £107,000 plus £25,000 costs.

In November 2013 an 89-year old resident at the company’s care home in Sudbury, Suffolk, was moved by two care workers, using a hoist, from her bed to a chair. She slipped through the hoist sling onto the floor. She suffered a fractured femur and ribs. She died two weeks later. The company did not have adequate health and safety arrangements in place to ensure that users could be safely hoisted. There was no manual handling policy. Individual risk assessments were inadequate because they failed to provide specific information about the equipment to be used. This resulted in some residents being hoisted with the wrong type or size of sling. Nurses and care workers had not been given suitable training and several slings were found to be unsafe to use. They had not been inspected or examined for six months. Disposable slings were being washed and reused. Chilton Care Homes Ltd, the operator of the Home, was fined £60,000 plus £50,000 costs.

Scaldings and burns

In December 2008 Paul Cundy was living in a care home in St Austell, Cornwall. Comhome provided housing for vulnerable people and Solor provided care staff for the home Cundy needed physical help with all aspects of his daily life. He was lowered into a bath by a care worker, using a hoist. He was so severely scalded that his skin was left hanging from his body. He was hospitalised for four weeks. There was no thermostatic mixing valve (TMV) fitted to the bath. This would have regulated the water temperature to below 44 degrees centigrade. Four internal maintenance reports had stated that the TMV was not functioning and identified it as high risk because the water from the hot tap was at 60 degrees. Cundy’s care plan, drawn up by Solor, did not refer to the risk of scalding and there was no system to ensure that care workers had read the plan. Comhome was fined £44,000 and Solor was fined £10,000.

In August 2012 Beatrice Morgan, aged 88, a resident of the Greencroft Nursing Home in Queensferry, Deeside who was unable to walk, was lowered into a bath using a hoist. She cried out when she touched the water and suffered nine per cent burns from the scalding water. She later died from her injuries. The temperature of the water was not properly controlled to prevent it exceeding 44 degrees Celsius. Mixing valves had been fitted to control the temperature but they had not been properly maintained. Staff at the home had been instructed to check the temperature of bath water with a thermometer but no checks were made by management to ensure that this was done. The company had failed to adequately assess the risks of using hot water and had failed to provide sufficient training, instruction and supervision. Greencroft Care Ltd, a company in liquidation, was fined £5000.

In August 2013 Nicola Jones, a resident of a care home in Bathgate, was given a bath by Sharon Dunlop, a care support worker. Dunlop failed to check the temperature of the water. Ms Jones was scalded. She suffered 40 percent burns. She required major surgery and now has to use a wheelchair. Employees were supposed to check the water temperature before a service user bathed, and to make a record of this check. The company did not provide written instructions confirming this. Real Life Options, the operator of the Home, was fined £20,000. Dunlop was sentenced to 160 hours community service.

An HSE inspector is reported to have commented after the case that the injuries had been easily preventable by the simple act of checking the water temperature. Employers should ensure that their staff are provided with a thermometer and training in the safety aspects of bathing or showering people for whom they provide personal care.

In May 2016 Angus John MacLennan, who had learning difficulties and received 24 hour support from Western Isles Council, suffered serious burn injuries while bathing. The Council had failed to adequately manage the risk of scalding despite having been made aware of the risk through their own risk assessment. Employees had received no training in managing the risks of scalding, including how to run the bath or check the temperature. They had not been provided with thermometers. The Council was fined £8000.

In 2011 an 89 year old woman was a resident of the Old Wall Cottage Nursing Home, operated by European Healthcare Group plc. She was receiving personal care from two employees when she died from scalding injuries. Bathroom taps were not adjusted to limit the safe temperature of the water. The company had policies and procedures in place, but they were deficient. The company had not effectively communicated information and instruction to staff, so that control measures could be properly implemented. An HSE inspector commented that all healthcare premises have a legal duty to control the risks of scalding injuries. The company was fined £100,000 plus £50,000 costs.

In May 2012 Walter Powley, aged 85, was admitted to Western Park View, a care home, after his family was advised that he could not be safely left at home because of his risk of falling. Powley fell in his room at the home. He was trapped between a wardrobe and a radiator. He suffered serious burns to his legs from the radiator pipe and valves. The injuries were fatal. The pipes and valves were not covered and had temperatures of 73 degrees centigrade.The company which owned the care home was aware that the deceased was at risk of falls and injury and that staff should be vigilant. It had failed to assess the risks in his room and had not taken appropriate action to control and manage the risks. Western Park Leicester Ltd, the operator of the Home, was fined £100,000 plus £35,000 costs.

Fatal legionella exposure

In September 2012 Lewis Payne, aged 95, went to a care facility operated by Reading Borough Council. He had been in hospital and went to the care facility for intermediate care before returning to his home. He complained of tightness of the chest, shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing and nausea. He was readmitted to hospital and treated for Legionella’s disease. He died from legionella-related pneumonia.

Control and management arrangements at the centre were not sufficiently robust. Legionella training for key personnel were below required standards. There were inadequate temperature checks. Some of the checks of thermostatic mixer valves were done incorrectly.Showers were not descaled and disinfected quarterly as required. Flushing of little used outlets was reliant on one member of staff and there was no procedure for this to be done in the absence of that staff member. The failings were systemic and continued over a period of time. There was a history of legionella problems at the centre. Monitoring, checking and flushing tasks were the responsibility of the centre’s handyman. He was inadequately trained and supervised. There was no system in place to cover for him when he was away so that the requisite checks were not done. The Council was fined £100,000 plus £20,000 costs.

Care home death from fire door

In November 2010 Irene Sharples, a 92-year old resident at Alexian Brothers Care Centre, was killed when a heavy fire door fell on her during renovation work. Healthcare Management Trust, the company which ran the home, engaged Rothwell Robinson Ltd to carry out renovation work. Mrs Sharples, who suffered from dementia, wandered into a room where building work was being carried out. A fire door fell on her and caused fatal injuries. Both companies had failed to make sure that the room was locked when it was unoccupied. The fire door had been removed during the building work and leant against wardrobes. Other hazards in the room included loose skirting boards, exposed wiring, broken glass and rusty nails. Healthcare Management Trust was fined £20,000 plus £7500 costs. Rothwell Robinson Ltd was fined £10,000 plus £7500 costs.

Trapped by bed rails

In April 2010 Mrs Elsie Beals, aged 93, a resident of the Aden Court Care Home in Huddersfield, run by New Century Care Ltd, died from asphyxiation after being trapped in the gap between her mattress and incorrectly fitted bed safety rails. Mrs Beal had been a resident for two years. She had been helped to bed on the evening before her death by two care assistants. She was checked before midnight and was due another check two hours later. When the care assistants entered her room, they found her dead, trapped in the gap between her mattress and the bed safety rail. The company had failed to train staff at the care home to fit bed safety rails properly. Staff had not been trained to carry out regular in use checks to make sure that bed rails remained properly adjusted, nor to carry out risk assessments for their use. New Century Care Ltd was fined £165,000 plus £18,000 costs.

Care centre death from choking

In September 2012 Michael Breeze attended Shropshire Council’s run day services care centre, Hartley’s Day Centre, in Shrewsbury. The Centre caters for adults with learning disabilities. Mr Breeze was taken there for the day with a packed lunch provided by the carers at the residential home where he lived. At midday Mr Breeze started to eat his lunch. He started to choke and collapsed. He went into respiratory arrest and did not recover. He had a history of choking incidents. Appropriate safeguards were not put in place at the Centre despite these warnings. The Council was fined £25,000 plus £39,000 costs.

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