The UK’s biggest care home provider has been ordered to pay £170,000 in fines and costs after a vulnerable resident choked to death on fish and chips during an entertainment evening at premises in Chorley.
Four Seasons Health Care (England) Ltd was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after an investigation found that 75-year-old Rita Smith should only have been provided with pureed food. Miss Smith, who suffered from dementia and motor neurone disease, had swallowing difficulties and was at risk of choking.
Preston Crown Court was told she was admitted into Euxton Park Care Home in November 2010. The home was made aware that she had difficulty swallowing, needed pureed food on a teaspoon and supervision by a carer while eating.
Only two weeks later, she was given fish and chips in a cone, along with other residents, while attending a film and supper evening in the care home on 1 December 2010.
A member of staff later found Miss Smith slumped in her chair. A nurse attempted to resuscitate her but she was later pronounced dead. A post mortem found the primary cause of death was choking.
HSE investigators found neither of the staff who organised the evening had been told Miss Smith could not eat solid foods and the recommendations of a specialist assessment, carried out a local hospital, about her eating arrangements had not been communicated by the care home to staff.
A care plan and risk assessment, which would have identified the need for a care worker to feed her pureed food during meal times, was not completed by Four Seasons for Miss Smith on her arrival at the home.
Four Seasons Health Care (England) Ltd, part of the Four Seasons Health Care group which runs more than 500 care homes and specialist care centres in the UK, admitted a single breach of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company, of Groves Road in Douglas, Isle of Man, was fined £125,000 and ordered to £45,000 towards the cost of the prosecution.
Speaking after the hearing in March, HSE inspector Shellie Bee said: “This was a tragic death which could have been avoided if Four Seasons Health Care had made sure systems were in place to protect residents. Our investigation found there had been an alarming lack of communication with many staff unaware of Miss Smith’s medical needs, despite them being well documented”.
Miss Smith’s family said in a statement after the case: “Our hope is that the seriousness and financial implications of this case for the company will ensure that nothing like this will ever happen again at a Four Seasons or any other care home. This would mean that Rita’s tragic death will not have been entirely in vain.”
Compliance with health and safety requirements is vital for any business, from the largest to the smallest. Failure to do so could not only result in the costs and reputational damage associated with a prosecution but also the additional expense of paying for the HSE’s investigation into the matter and increased insurance premiums.
For more information on how Palmers can assist employers with health and safety issues, or if you are facing prosecution, please visit the Palmers website or contact our health and safety specialists Lara Murray and Jeremy Sirrell.