Northern Ireland

Pensioner Kathleen Fegan's family 'shocked' at care home breaches

Kathleen Fegan
Image caption Kathleen Fegan died after a fire broke out in Owenvale Court care home in 2012. It has since come under new ownership

A west Belfast family whose grandmother died in a fire at a residential care home fire in 2012 are disappointed that the home broke fire regulations in an inspection, just two years after the pensioner died.

This was despite the fact that the home is under new management.

Kathleen Fegan, 81, was critically injured in the fire at Owenvale Court which the police said was accidental.

An inquest into her death is due to take place later this week.

Her granddaughter, Nicola Reid, said that considering the horrendous circumstances in which her grandmother had died, the family was shocked to learn that the home had failed a number of fire regulations.

"Two years down the line and it seems they haven't learned anything," she said.

At the time of Mrs Fegan's death, care at the home was provided by the St John of God Association. However, after the fire it was deregistered and taken over by the Care Circle group.

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Media captionNicola Reid said her family was shocked to learn that the home broke fire regulations

This year, under the management of Care Circle, the regulators found breaches to several fire regulations.

Ms Reid said the new managers should have been more responsible.

"Before granny died, we questioned and raised concerns about the standard of care. After she died, we welcomed the home being taken over - we just hoped they would be more responsible," she said.

Care Circle Group told the BBC that safety was a top priority.

In a statement, the group said: "All staff are fully trained in fire safety and carry out daily fire checks and weekly tests of detection systems."

In April this year, the inspectors found that those who managed the home, Care Circle, breached a number of regulations, including those relating to fire safety.

These included:

  • problems with fire doors, including failing to ensure a smoke seal had been fitted;
  • a delay in a call bell in a resident's room which prompted the manager being requested to carry out a risk assessment of the call bell system and establish if it was fit for purpose;
  • too few chairs in the smoking room, with some showing no sign of being compliant with fire regulations;
  • a fire blanket was required for the smoking area.

The inspector also noted that it was "concerning that limited progress had been made in regard to the issues identified".

Care Circle Group is a leading provider of nursing care in Northern Ireland. The company owns and operates 12 care facilities. The group told the BBC that it had taken all the recommendations on board.

"As part of the normal and routine estates inspection process carried out by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), a number of recommendations were made, all of which have been fully implemented," the group said.

Several further inspections have since been carried out at the home. The most recent report to be published by the regulators states there had been significant improvement at Owenvale home.

Kathleen Fegan's family said they welcomed the RQIA's response to ensuring the care home was fully compliant with regulations.

However they are also calling on the public to remain vigilant and not to be afraid to speak up if they are concerned about the standard of care in a residential or nursing home.

Kathleen Fegan's grandson, Sean, said the family are hoping her inquest would help provide answers to how she died and will provide a response from those who had been in charge.

Image caption Solicitor Padraig O'Muirigh said he hoped Kathleen Fegan's inquest would give the family answers to their questions about her death

"We want other families to come forward and speak up if they believe their loved one's care is not as it should be," he said.

"Families must insist that all care home owners are sticking by the rules. Families should contact the regulators if they believe standards are slipping."

The family's solicitor said an increasing number of families were using the legal process to get answers about how their loved ones are being cared for.

Padraig O'Muirigh said: "Many new clients who are concerned about the treatment of an elderly relative, either a mother, father, aunt, uncle or granny are turning to the legal process to access information about what may have happened in a death.

"They shouldn't have to go to these extremes but, sadly, an increasing number feel they have no option."

Mr O'Muirigh said he hoped the inquest into Kathleen Fagan's death would give the family the answers they're looking for.

"The family has serious concerns with the treatment of their vulnerable grandmother and also the fire safety precautions within the care home and they feel an inquest will provide the remit to look at the issue and cross examine the evidence to get answers to what happened."

Since April 2014, the RQIA has conducted two care and three estate inspections at Owenvale Court. During these inspections - the most recent in August - a number of requirements were made in relation to the service.

In a statement to the BBC, the regulators said the problems highlighted had either been addressed or were in the process of being addressed.

"In common with all registered services, the safety and wellbeing of all residents at Owenvale Court is of paramount importance to RQIA, and through its regulatory activities, RQIA will continue to monitor the quality and safety of this service," they said.

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