Downpatrick care home fined after a resident chokes to death

A care home in County Down has been fined £20,000 after the death of a resident who choked on a pancake.

M Care Ltd, Ballynahinch, previously pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to ensure the safety of a non-employee under health and safety regulations.

Edward McCullough had been a resident at Ringdufferin Nursing Home in Downpatrick from July 2015.

The court heard a dietary care plan was drawn up as he was assessed as at risk of choking.

The care plan outlined that Mr McCullough was to receive mashed or pureed food and liquid only, and “no bread was to be permitted”.

Prosecution barrister, Laura Ivers, told Downpatrick Crown Court, sitting in Belfast, that on 21 November 2016 the 87-year-old was noted by staff to be restless and it was decided to move him to the activities room where an external contractor was holding a bakery class.

“Unfortunately, the external co-ordinator of the bakery class gave Mr McCullough a freshly baked pancake and he ate it. It was not pureed,” Ms Ivers said.

“A short time later she realised he was struggling to swallow.

“A nurse performed first aid but, despite efforts by staff and paramedics, Mr McCullough died some time later in his private room.”

The court heard that M Care Ltd accepted it had a duty to ensure the external co-ordinator was made aware that “under no circumstances was Edward McCullough to be given a pancake unless it was pureed”.

‘Tragic case’

Defence counsel Frank O’Donoghue KC, on behalf of the residential home, said this was the first breach of health and safety regulations by the company.

He said the company took such breaches very seriously, had an excellent care record and had since implemented and improved measures at the home to prevent any repetition.

“The company acknowledges the emotions and the hurt that have been expressed most eloquently in the course of victim impact statements from Mr McCullough’s children,” he said.

“This is a very tragic case in which a much loved gentleman who had a very valued life providing great service to his family and the local community, who lost his life in circumstances which should have not occurred.”

Judge Geoffrey Miller KC said the breach of care was “significant as the risk of serious injury was clearly foreseeable as a vulnerable patient was fed food stuffs other than those specified in his food plan”.

The judge added: “The death of Mr McCullough and the manner of it has been both untimely and distressing to his family.

“This was an isolated incident of inadvertent negligence.

“Nothing this court says or does can undo what has been done and the imposition of a fine, either large or small, cannot restore the life that has been lost.”

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