Northern Ireland

Care home fined £75,000 over choking death

Belfast crown court
Image caption Downpatrick Crown Court sat in Belfast for the case

A care home in County Down has been fined £75,000 for a health and safety breach which resulted in a resident choking to death on a piece of orange.

Mervyn Patterson lived at Seeconnell Village Residential Home, Castlewellan, when he died in March 2014.

He had learning difficulties and severe autism, and his swallow function was limited.

Corriewood Private Clinic Ltd controls the home and said it accepted the judgement.

The judge said the fine did not reflect "the value of Mr Patterson's life".

The court heard that Mr Patterson had spent more than 40 years in Muckamore Abbey Hospital before being moved to Seeconnell in December 2013.

Staff from Muckamore were present for the first three days of the 57-year-old's stay at Seeconnell to advise his new carers.

'Directly supervised at meal times'

The following month an assessment was carried out and issues were raised about Mr Patterson's food intake.

The court heard his food was to have a soft, mashed texture, that he should be upright and alert when eating, and that any fruit should be peeled.

A second assessment said Mr Patterson should be directly supervised at meal times.

On 20 March 2014, Mr Patterson choked and staff administered first aid and CPR while emergency services were called.

A post mortem concluded that a segment of orange, including the peel, was located at the back of his throat.

Following an investigation it emerged that a support worker had prepared a meal of oranges, other fruit and yoghurt.

She had not read Mr Patterson's care plan, or been given time to do so.

Another worker said he fed Mr Patterson his medication with the yoghurt and took the medicine cups to the office.

Mr Patterson was left unsupervised for about a minute. He was then found coughing.

'Significant failures occurred'

A multi-agency investigation was launched and Corriewood Limited pleaded guilty of failing to ensure the health and safety of a non-employee under the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland ) Order 1978.

During sentencing Judge Grant said there had been "excellent testimonials about the way this premises has been managed over a number of years".

However, he added it was "quite clear significant failures occurred" which led to Mr Patterson's untimely death.

The company has been given four months to pay the £75,000 fine.

In a statement, Corriewood Private Clinic 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 lives as possible.

"We continue to work in partnership with relevant Health and Social Care Trusts to ensure our ongoing care to residents is exemplary."

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