Northern Ireland news

Care home fined £75,000 after resident choked to death

Present in court to represent the care facility was acting manager Marie McGrady

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

Mervyn Patterson, who had severe autism and learning difficulties, was a resident at Seeconnell Village Residential Home in Castlewellan in March 2014 when he passed away.

Fining Corriewood Private Clinic Ltd - the organisation in control of Seeconnell - for the breach which led to Mr Patterson's death, Judge Piers Grant 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."

Branding the death of the 57-year old as a tragedy, Judge Grant spoke of a life cut short.

Downpatrick Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, heard that prior to being moved to Seeconnell in December 2013, Mr Patterson spent 40 years in Muckamore Abbey Hospital.

He was 'resettled' and for the first three days, staff from Muckamore were present to advise his new carers on his specialist care.

An assessment was later carried and issues raised about his food intake. His swallow function was limited, any food given to him should have a soft, mashed texture and he should be upright and alert when eating.

It was also noted that he should be fed with a teaspoon, as he tended to overload his mouth, and fruit should be peeled. In addition, the assessment concluded he should be directly supervised during meals.

On the evening of March 20, 2014, Mr Patterson started to choke. First aid and CPR was administered by staff while emergency services were called. Despite best efforts, Mr Patterson died, and when a post mortem was conducted, a segment of orange including the peel was located at the back of his throat.

An investigation found a 19-year old support worker prepared a supper of oranges, other fruit and yoghurt. It also emerged she had never read Mr Patterson's care plan.

Another worker said he fed Mr Patterson his medication with the yoghurt and took the medicine cups to the office - leaving him unsupervised for around a minute. The worker said he saw Mr Patterson coughing and was able to remove some orange peel from his mouth.

He said he was aware of Mr Patterson's issues with food, and believed oranges were suitable.

Corriewood subsequently pleaded guilty to a single count of failing to ensure the health and safety of a non-employee.

In his sentencing remarks, Judge Grant noted that Corriewood had no previous convictions and "excellent testimonials". He also said that while the company was responsible, it was "quite clear significant failures occurred".

These included a lack of checks preparing Mr Patterson's food, and a lack of knowledge of his requirements by the person giving him the food.

Present in court to represent Corriewood was acting manager Marie McGrady, who told a previous hearing that since Mr Patterson's death, reviews had been implemented to ensure such a tragedy never happened again.

Corriewood said it accepted the judgement "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 fulfilled lives as possible."

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