Care home fined £120k as resident chokes on chips

Home: Euxton Park care home in Euxton, near Chorley
Home: Euxton Park care home in Euxton, near Chorley
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A care home has been fined £125,000 after an elderly resident died after being fed fish and chips.

Rita Smith, 74, had difficulties swallowing and was only allowed to eat pureed food under supervision, Preston Crown Court has been told.

But on December 1 2010, Euxton Park Care Home, in Wigan Road, Euxton, laid on a special event for the residents, with a cinema screen and fish and chip supper.

Miss Smith was invited but the court heard her dietary needs were not passed on to the carers running the event.

The fish and chips were handed out to Miss Smith and the other guests and the lights were dimmed to watch the film,

But when the lights came back on, Miss Smith was discovered slumped in her chair, having choked on her meal.

She was rushed to hospital but died in the early hours of the morning.

The court heard the care home, run by Four Seasons Health Care Ltd, had inadequate systems in place to communicate the care needs of its residents during staff handover times. There was no written record of Miss Smith’s food needs and the carers did not know she was unable to eat solid food.

Miss Smith, who was unmarried and did not have any children, was described by her family as “one of life’s innocents, trusting everyone in her life, which made her very vulnerable.”

Since she died, the court heard procedures have been put in place to ensure all residents have adequate and up to date care plans and Euxton Park has become a centre of excellence for patients with food and dietary difficulties.

Four Seasons operates 24 care homes, providing 80,000 meals a day to its residents.

Judge Christopher Cornwall said: “It is simply appalling that Miss Smith’s life was lost in such circumstances. She and her family trusted the home to look after her and care for her properly.

“Miss Smith was wholly dependent upon the home and its staff to act in her best interests and they have failed to do so.

“I have found that there was a wholly inadequate system and a fundamental failure to communicate essential information about any resident from one member of staff to another.”

In addition to the fine, Four Seasons was ordered to pay £45,000 prosecution costs. A company spokesman said: “We are deeply sorry for the human errors that led to this tragic accident, for which we as an organisation accept responsibility.”