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Care home fined over OAP's death ignored chair safety warning

By Michael Donnelly

Published 07/05/2016

Ian McGoldrick and wife Mary outside court at an earlier appearance
Ian McGoldrick and wife Mary outside court at an earlier appearance

A Co Antrim care home has been fined and ordered to pay costs totalling £18,279 for breaching health and safety legislation arising out of the death of an elderly patient more than three years ago.

Judge Desmond Marrinan told company directors Ian and Mary McGoldrick that while his impression of them, reinforced by impressive references, was of a caring, conscientious couple, the tragedy of the immensely sad case was that a specific warning given years earlier over the use of equipment was not disseminated to staff.

Mr and Mrs McGoldrick's company, McGoldrick Enterprises Ltd, had pleaded guilty to having "failed to conduct their undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as was reasonably practicable, that persons not in their employment who may be affected were not exposed to risks to their health or safety".

The charge arose out of the death of patient Mary Dowds in their Maine Private Nursing home in Randalstown on April 8, 2013.

The company, which also runs a second care home, Ladyhill Lodge in Antrim, had been charged with corporate manslaughter, however that was allowed to "remain on the books" and was not proceeded with.

Ms Dowds, who'd been a resident in the home for more than 20 years, was found dead in her room in a chair especially provided for her needs. Prosecutor Neil Connor said the chair was provided with a strap, referred to in a number of ways, including a lap or safety belt, or pelvic positioner.

It appeared that Ms Dowds had slipped down the chair and had hanged by the lap belt. Defence QC Patrick Lyttle said reports indicated that Ms Dowds may have suffered a cardiac arrest before being caught up by the belt.

Mr Connor said that in 2008 the company was issued with a warning about possible problems with the use of the equipment, and patients either slipping down or out of the chair. Unfortunately, staff were never advised of these warnings and no formal training was given.

Mr Lyttle said that the company's guilty plea had been offered from the very outset and that everyone at McGoldrick Enterprises had co-operated fully with the investigations.

However, Mr Lyttle added the stigma attached to what had occurred had a huge bearing on the couple, whom he described as decent, hard-working people whose reputation had been destroyed over the past two years.

In all, the company was fined a total of £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of more than £8,000 at the Antrim Crown Court sitting yesterday.

Making the order, Judge Marrinan echoed prosecution views that had the earlier warning been followed up rigorously the unfortunate tragedy may have had a different outcome.

Speaking after the sentencing, Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland inspector Kevin Campbell said: "Today our thoughts are with the family of Mary Dowds, whose death could have been easily avoided if the available information about the dangers from incorrectly fitted or adjusted seat restraints had been acted upon."

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