Care home group who let woman die of hypothermia has been fined £1.6m

A York care home has been fined £1.6 million after a 91-year old resident was allowed to die of severe hypothermia

The court heard Annie Barritt’s temperature was so cold, it would not have registered on a standard thermometer, resulting in her freezing to death at Oaklands Country rest home. On her final day spent asleep in her room, Ms Barritt was not given any hot food or drink. Her temperature of 25.3°C was found to be nearly 10 degrees below the hypothermia threshold of 35°C. Her discharge papers specified her need to be kept warm within the care facility and although she was checked-on around 10 times throughout the day of her death by two nurses, she eventually died of hypothermia.

In a statement following the court’s decision, Barritt’s family expressed the hardship they faced in the wake of her death which the judge described as an “accident waiting to happen”:

“The last four years have been very hard for the family, coming to terms with the tragic circumstances of Mum’s death from hypothermia.

“It is hard to believe an elderly lady with dementia could be treated in such an appalling way in a care home that claimed to specialise in care for vulnerable people.

“A fine, no matter how large, could never replace a loved one: what price can you put on your mother’s life?”

Commenting on the care home in court was Judge Paul Batty QC, who described the presence of “systematic, systemic failures”.

When her body was brought to hospital he stated, “her body temperature was at a level barely compatible with human life”.

A week prior to her death, the court found that Barritt had been brought into hospital having fallen, and her discharge papers stating due to her low temperature, she needed to be kept warm.

Batty opined that the care home had not adjusted Barritt’s care accordingly: “There was in my judgment no amendment to Mrs Barritt’s care plan. Those trusted with her care should have been aware of this cautionary note from the hospital. They were not.

“The failure to revise Mrs Barritt’s care plan was indicative to other residents. This was not an isolated occurrence.”

The care group—Maria Mallaband Care Ltd of Leeds—pleaded guilty to a health-and-safety charge in relation to Barritt’s death at the hearing in June. The company cared for 2,600 residents in 30 care homes across the country.

Barritt’s family had originally admitted her to the care home in July 2012, thinking it would be the safest place for her to reside. She was unable to make decisions for herself having suffered from dementia for five years prior to her death at the home on 4 November 2012.

Previous investigations into her death revealed radiators in her room as well as others nearby had not been maintained the court heard. Management had also been repeatedly reminded for two years by relatives of residents as well as staff that the oil-fired heating system within the home did not work properly. Despite this, nothing had been done to rectify this.

The court had also previously heard that during previous winters prior to Barritt’s death, the care home had also run out of fuel altogether.

Prosecuting on behalf of the Harrogate District Council on Tuesday, David Hercock said: “By the time a night-shift nurse realised [Barritt] was in trouble at 7.50pm, [Barritt] felt ice cold, she wasn’t breathing and her temperature was so low it couldn’t register on a standard thermometer. She was taken by ambulance to Harrogate district hospital, but died there later the same day.”

Having won national awards, the care group had an annual turnover of £50 million. Oaklands however, showed losses in 2015 of £1.75 million and £4.2 million over the course of 2016.

Discussing the number of failures relating to health and safety legislation revealed by the investigation was environmental health officer at Harrogate borough council, Tony Moule:

“No fine can ever compensate the family for the loss of their mother in such shocking circumstances. For an elderly vulnerable person to suffer hypothermia while in bed in her room, under the care of a national care provider, beggars belief.

“Care homes must take their responsibilities seriously and Maria Mallaband Care Group Ltd failed in its duty of care. We hope that this case sends out a message which will help to ensure that such events don’t happen in the future.”

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