Care UK subsidiary fined £1.5m following choking incident

A Care UK subsidiary has been ordered to pay more than £1.5m after it failed to meet a resident’s nutritional and hydration needs and protect them from avoidable harm.

Care UK Community Partnerships Ltd operates care homes in England, including Mill View in East Grinstead, West Sussex, which is a setting providing accommodation with personal and nursing care for up to 70 people.

In April 2018, an 86-year-old male resident, Mr Craig, was admitted to Mill View after being discharged from East Surrey Hospital. While at the hospital, he was referred to a speech and language therapist who advised he was at risk of choking and needed a special diet of soft foods.

On 30 April that year a choking risk assessment was carried out by a Care UK team leader. This did not identify any choking risks.

Just over two weeks later, on 16 May, a Care UK regional nurse reviewed the resident’s care plans and amended the eating and drinking plan to state that he ‘eats a normal diet and drinks normal fluids.’ A choking risk assessment was completed and, again, no choking risks were identified.

Four days later, on 20 May, the resident was having lunch in the dining room when he started to choke and became unresponsive. A post-mortem found he had eaten large pieces of meat and concluded the cause of death was choking on food.

It was found staff did not understand how to prepare the correct diet or to safely support the resident to eat and drink. The service also failed to maintain accurate care records and the advice of the speech and language therapist was not fully incorporated into the resident’s care plans and risk assessments. He was therefore given unsafe and inappropriate foods from the time of his admission until his death.

Care Community Partnerships pleaded guilty to failing to provide safe care and treatment to the resident resulting in him being exposed to significant risk of harm that ultimately led to his death.

It was fined £1.5m at Crawley Magistrates’ Court, on Thursday (9 June) and ordered to pay a £170 victim surcharge and £27,000 costs to the Care Quality Commission (CQC) which brought the prosecution.

Hazel Roberts, CQC head of inspection for adult social care, expressed her sympathies with the resident’s family following the ‘tragically needless death’.

She added: ‘He had the right to expect to be kept safe while living in Mill View and receiving care from the staff there, but in this case the provider, Care Community Partnerships Ltd, failed in its legal duty to protect him from being exposed to significant harm.

‘I hope the outcome of this prosecution reminds care providers of their duty to assess and manage all risks to ensure people are kept safe.’

Care UK’s regional director Georgina Stocker said: ‘We again offer our apologies and condolences to the family of Mr Craig. We pride ourselves on offering kind, safe care to all residents in our homes and are truly sorry that, on this occasion, our processes were not followed, allowing a team member to mistakenly serve Mr Craig an unsuitable meal.

‘Following this incident in May 2018, we implemented a number of improvements across our homes to ensure we learn from this experience and minimise the chances of it happening again. These have included retraining everyone who might serve a meal, enhancing record keeping about people’s dietary requirements and scheduling different dining times, where needed, to give colleagues more time to support individual residents.

‘This home was inspected by the Care Quality Commission in December last year and given a “good” rating. We now need to reflect on the conclusion of today’s legal proceedings and on how best to respond.’