News & Views

Care home fined after pensioner death

BY Steve Briggs
Health & Safety
BG Orange

BUPA Care Homes (BNH) Ltd has been fined £150,000 following a prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after a pensioner died at one of its nursing homes.

Seventy-four-year-old Brigid O'Callaghan, known as Vera, died after being strangled by a lap belt when she was left strapped in a wheelchair overnight.

Birmingham Crown Court was told that staff at the company's Amberley Court Nursing Home did not properly check on Mrs O'Callaghan on the night of 27 October 2005, leaving her in a wheelchair in her room rather than helping her to bed.

Her corpse was found the next morning by a member of staff. She had slipped from the seat of the wheelchair to the floor, with the lap belt strap around her neck.

An HSE investigation into safety standards at the home following the pensioner’s death found more than 15 failings in her treatment.

The court heard that the home had failed to carry out a proper risk assessment and care plan for Mrs O'Callaghan's stay, did not communicate her needs to staff, failed to ensure she could call for help and did not monitor whether night time checks were carried out.

HSE inspectors also identified more than ten further potential hazards that put residents at risk, ranging from a cluttered corridor to dirty conditions.

These included the absence of window restraints; excessive water temperature in two bathrooms; failure to secure a laundry room; tripping hazards and charging a battery in a corridor; storing lifting slings over a handrail; inappropriate treatment of waste items and laundry; dirty conditions of a shower and toilet; inappropriate storage of items in bathrooms; failure to secure a housekeeping room; a cluttered corridor; insufficient resources for an adequate maintenance programme; insufficient monitoring of the management of the home and lack of staff training.

BUPA Care Homes (BNH) Ltd, pleaded guilty to two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The first charge focused on the issues most closely connected to Mrs O'Callaghan's death and the second on the potential hazards for the other residents. The company was fined £150,000 in total and ordered to pay £150,000 in costs.

HSE inspector Sarah Palfreyman said that Mrs O'Callaghan's death was a preventable tragedy caused by a shocking case of mismanagement. She added that care home managers had a duty of care for their residents, and at the very least should be making sure that residents are comfortable and safe at night, not left in a wheelchair.

“The home's managers were not given appropriate monitoring or supervision and as a result the staff were not being properly trained or monitored. Working in a care home is a specialised job and it's vital that all employees have the correct training in place, which in this instance, they did not," she said.

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