Buckfastleigh care home fined over death of resident

A care home has been fined £110,000 over the death of a 75-year-old man who careered down a flight of stairs in his wheelchair after fire doors were wedged open.

Diabetic Patrick Foale was fatally injured in the accident at the Redmount Nursing and Residential Home, at Buckfastleigh, in October 2010.

Plymouth Crown Court heard on Friday that staff had been in the habit of wedging fire doors open so they could carry meals around the home with greater ease. But the unofficial policy meant that wheelchair-bound Mr Foale, who had had his left lower leg amputated in 2000 and was also partially sighted, was able to access the main stairwell.

Jim Bennett, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, said the home had failed to act after a "near miss" involving Mr Foale in July of the same year. "A care assistant saw Mr Foale on the second top floor of the home propelling himself towards the staircase in his wheelchair," he told the court.

"She had to shout at Mr Foale to stop and but for her intervention Mr Foale would have continued and wheeled himself on to the staircase and fallen.

"That is exactly what happened 115 days later."

Staff at the home, which had 35 residents at the time, heard the fall and found Mr Foale lying at the bottom of the stairs. He was rushed to Torbay Hospital but died the following day.

Mr Bennett said the cause of death was given as "severe facial fractures as a consequence of falling down the stairwell". He said there was no general risk assessment in relation to the stairwell or "any appreciation of the risk of inadvertent access".

He said Mr Foale had been "badly let down at the expense of the convenience of staff carrying trays".

The pensioner had lived at the home for more than nine years and was prone to going to various parts of the home for a cigarette. But the court heard that he could become disorientated because of his failing eyesight.

Redmount is owned and operated by Your Health Limited, which has its headquarters in Derbyshire and has five homes across the country. It had a turnover of £4 million last year. His Honour Judge Paul Darlow heard it had been rated as "good" during inspections.

He said the "risk itself was, or should have been, one that was very obvious" and easily remedied and that it was "not a one-off act – it was a systemic failure". He fined Your Health Limited, which had pleaded guilty to one health and safety offence at the first opportunity, £110,000 and ordered it to pay £26,226 in costs.


Sourced from This Is South Devon, 9th July 2012.