Care home is fined £75k over resident who choked to death on a piece of orange
A Co Down care home was fined £75,000 yesterday for a health and safety breach that 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 registered organisation in control of Seeconnell - for the breach that 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 a tragedy, Judge Grant spoke of a life cut short.
He also said "no sentence I impose can bring him back to life or assuage the grief of the family".
Downpatrick Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, heard that prior to being moved to Seeconnell in December 2013, Mr Patterson had spent over 40 years in Muckamore Abbey Hospital.
He and four others were resettled under the Community Integration Project and when Mr Patterson was first moved to Seeconnell, staff from Muckamore were present for the first three days to advise his new carers on his specialist level of care.
The court was told that food given to him had to have a soft, mashed texture and he needed to be directly supervised at meal times.
On March 20, 2014 Mr Patterson started to choke, and despite the best efforts of staff, he passed away.
A post-mortem examination found a segment of orange, including the peel, at the back of his throat.
It emerged that on the night in question, a 19-year-old support worker prepared a supper of oranges, other fruit and yoghurt, but she had never read Mr Patterson's care plan and was not aware of his dietary requirements.
Another worker said he gave Mr Patterson his medication with the yoghurt and took the medicine cups to the office - which left him unsupervised for around a minute. He said he saw Mr Patterson coughing and was able to remove some orange peel from his mouth.
The worker said he was aware of Mr Patterson's issues with food and believed oranges were a suitable foodstuff.
Corriewood subsequently pleaded guilty to a single count of failing to ensure the health and safety of a non-employee.Judge Grant fined the company £75,000 and gave it four months to pay.
He warned that if Corriewood came back before the courts for a similar offence, "the level of fine will inevitably increase substantially".
Present in court to represent the care home was acting manager Marie McGrady, who told a previous hearing that since Mr Patterson's death, assessments and reviews have been implemented to ensure the tragedy that occurred in March 2014 never happens again.
In a statement issued after the resolution of the court case, Corriewood Private Clinic Ltd said: "We accept the judgment 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 a life as possible.
"We continue to work in partnership with relevant health and social care trusts to ensure our ongoing care to residents is exemplary."