A care provider that failed in its duty to provide safe care and treatment has been ordered to pay £59,570.58 in fines and costs by Camberwell Magistrates’ Court.
District Judge Andrew Sweet issued a £45,000 fine and also ordered the payment of £14,570.58 prosecution costs and a £150 victim surcharge.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) brought the prosecution following an incident when a 72 year old woman was burned after sitting on a portable heater at Elmwood Nursing Home in Croydon.
The registered provider HC One Limited pleaded guilty to an offence of failing to provide safe care and treatment resulting in avoidable harm to a resident at the home.
The court was told that the nursing home had been experiencing difficulties with its heating system during January 2016. They placed some oil filled electric heaters in residents’ bedrooms and communal areas.
Late one night a member of staff found Mrs Polly Dunkley, who has vascular dementia, sitting on one of the portable heaters. As staff put her back to bed they noticed a burn to the back of her thigh.
Although they called the NHS 111 service, staff did not appreciate the severity of the burn or follow the appropriate wound management procedure.
It was only the following morning, and after Mrs Dunkley had experienced a fall, that paramedics arranged for her to go to hospital.
She eventually spent 72 days in hospital, including 28 days in the specialist burns unit at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital after receiving a skin graft to treat her burns.
Bena Brown, prosecuting, told the court that the provider had failed to ensure that the risk of burns and scalding from portable electric heaters was safely managed. As a result Mrs Dunkley and other people using the service were exposed to a significant risk of avoidable harm.
The heater manufacturer took the view that the use of these portable heaters was inappropriate for vulnerable people. At the time of the incident, Mrs Dunkley was not being appropriately supervised by staff at the home.
Debbie Ivanova, CQC’s Deputy Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care, said:
“This painful injury could have been avoided if HC-One Limited had taken responsibility to protect the people in their care.
“The risk of older people sustaining serious burns from hot surfaces is something all care homes should be aware of but the provider failed to ensure that a suitable risk assessment was carried out for the use of the heater in Mrs Dunkley’s room – and as a result she was seriously burned.
“When serious incidents occur, we now have the powers to prosecute those who are responsible. If we find that a care provider has put people in its care at risk of harm, we will always consider using those powers to hold them to account in the courts.”
A spokesperson for HC-One said:
“We are very sorry for the mistakes that led to a Resident at our home sustaining an injury in March 2016, and we have apologised personally to the Resident involved and her family.
“This accident was the result of the health and safety systems we have in place being incorrectly followed. In our own investigations, completed immediately after the original accident, we recognised and documented where things went wrong and have made sure we have learnt these lessons. We have now removed the type of heater involved from all of our homes, and the staff involved in this accident no longer work for our company. We are confident that this type of accident will never happen again in any of our homes.
“We are working closely with the CQC and the local authority to make sure the home continues to improve. The new team at the home is working together to deliver the kindest possible care, which is our absolute focus and priority at all times.”