Care home fined £75k after man choked to death

Care home fined £75k after man choked to death

11 July 2018

A CARE home near Castlewellan where a resident choked to death on a piece of orange has been fined £75,000.

Mervyn Patterson, (57), was a resident at Seeconnell Village Residential Home when he died in March, 2014.

Corriewood Private Clinic Ltd, which runs the Clanvaraghan Road home, was fined for the health and safety breach 

at Downpatrick Crown Court sitting in Belfast last week.

Mr Patterson had severe autism and learning difficulties and had previously spent 40 years in Muckamore Abbey Hospital before being moved to Seeconnell in December, 2013.

Judge Piers Grant described Mr Patterson’s death as a tragedy.

Corriewood admitted to a count of failing to ensure the health and safety of a non-employee.

In sentencing for the safety breach, the judge said: “I want to make it absolutely clear that no one should view the imposition of a fine as an indication that this court takes the view this is the cost of a life, or the value of Mr Patterson’s life. On the contrary.”

He also added: “No sentence I impose can bring him back to life or assuage the grief of the family.”

A post-mortem revealed that a piece of orange, including the peel, was found at the back of Mr Patterson’s throat.

The court heard Mr Patterson needed food to have a soft, mashed texture and to be directly supervised at all meal times.

It was noted that Mr Patterson should be upright and alert when eating and advised that he should be fed from a teaspoon as he tended to overload his mouth. 

It was further recommended that any fruit given to Mr Patterson should be peeled.

Staff from Muckamore helped with the handover of care during Mr Patterson’s resettlement to Seeconnell for the first three days in order to advise on his specialist level of care.

However, the court heard that on the night he died, Mr Patterson was given a supper of oranges, other fruit and yoghurt prepared by a support worker. Later, another worker gave Mr Patterson his medicine with the yoghurt. 

When he left him unsupervised for a minute while he took the medicine cups back to the office, on his return he noticed Mr Patterson coughing and managed to remove some orange peel from his mouth.

However, despite the best efforts of staff and emergency services to help him with CPR, Mr Patterson passed away.

It emerged that the first support worker had never read Mr Patterson’s care plan and was not aware of his dietary requirements.

The second worker told the court that he had been aware of Mr Patterson’s issues with food and believed that oranges to be suitable.

Before sentencing, Judge Grant noted that Corriewood had no previous convictions and while it had “excellent testimonials,” it was clear that “significant failures occurred”.

He warned Corriewood that if the organisation ever came back before the courts, the level of the fine would substantially increase.

Seeconell’s acting manager, Marie McGrady was present in court. 

She had earlier told the court that after Mr Patterson’s death assessments and reviews had been implemented to ensure that a similar tragedy would be prevented in the future.

Corriewood Private Clinic Ltd apologised for Mr Patterson’s death, which it described as a “tragic accident.”

In a statement issued after the court hearing it said: “We accept the judgement today and apologise wholeheartedly to Mr Patterson’s family for this tragic accident.

“Our number one priority is always the health, safety and well-being of the residents we support, to have as fulfilled a life as possible.

“We continue to work in partnership with relevant health and social care trusts to ensure our ongoing care to residents is exemplary.”