The owners of a care home, where an elderly woman died of hypothermia, have been ordered by York Crown Court to pay a fine of £1.6 million, as well as costs, after pleading guilty to breaching health and safety regulations.
The case against Maria Mallaband Care Group Limited, was brought by Harrogate Borough Council, following the death of a 91 year old resident at their Oaklands Country Rest Home at Kirk Hammerton, between York and Harrogate.
The resident was taken to Harrogate hospital after being found unwell in her room on Sunday 4 November, 2012. Her temperature was 25.3°C, rather than the average normal body temperature of 37°C. She died that night. A postmortem confirmed that she had died of hypothermia.
An inquest was held in November 2015 and found that there had been an inappropriately low temperature in the resident’s room and a failure to provide adequate basic care. The resident, required 24 hour care as she had been suffering from dementia and as a consequence was unable to make a decision about regulating the temperature in her room.
Harrogate Borough Council launched its own investigation into the death; this found that there had been a serious breach of health and safety legislation and that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Maria Mallaband Care Group Limited of one offence contrary to section 33(1)(a) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
The investigation revealed that there had been a problem with the heating system at the care home, staff had had not updated the resident’s care plan when she was discharged from hospital a week earlier, and on the day of her death the resident had not been provided with any hot food or a hot drink.
Maria Mallaband Care Group Limited was fined £1.6 million and ordered to pay Harrogate Borough Council’s costs of £45,560 making a total of £1,645,560.
Tony Moule, the Environmental Health Officer at Harrogate Borough Council who conducted the investigation said:
Our investigation revealed that there were a number of serious failures with regard to health and safety legislation. These are in place to ensure the wellbeing of care home residents and we welcome the court’s decision to impose a significant fine.
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, whilst 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 Limited 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.
Following sentencing, David and Anthony Barritt, the sons of the deceased said:
We would like to extend our thanks to Tony Moule and his team from Harrogate Borough Council for their hard and detailed work which resulted in this case finally being brought to court. Throughout the proceedings they have liaised with us in a very helpful and sympathetic way.
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 that an elderly lady with dementia could be treated in such an appalling way in a care home that claimed to specialise in the care of such vulnerable people.
A fine, no matter how large, could ever replace a loved one; what price can you put on your mother’s life? We can only hope that mother’s sad and unnecessary death may be served to improve standards at Maria Mallaband Care Group’s care homes and god willing prevent such a tragic event from ever happening again.
Councillor John Ennis, Chair of Harrogate Borough Council’s Licensing Committee said:
This very sad death was avoidable and my condolences are with the family. I would like to thank everyone involved for their hard work in bringing this successful prosecution.