The owners of a care home where a 93-year-old woman died after being scalded in a bath have been fined £1.04m by a judge who handed suspended prison sentences to its former manager and a member of staff.
Aster Healthcare pleaded guilty to corporate manslaughter after the death of Frances Norris, a dementia patient who died in 2015 days after being placed into a bath at a cost-cutting and “grossly negligent” nursing home.
Elisabeth West was the care home manager and was “well aware” of problems raised for a number of years in relation to hot water systems at Birdsgrove nursing home in Bracknell, the Royal Courts of Justice in London was told.
Handing her a nine-month sentence suspended for 18 months, Mrs Justice Thornton said West was unqualified for her position and was unsupported.
“She knew enough about the risks of hot water and the longstanding problems at the home,” she said, adding that it was not credible to suggest she had no real knowledge of the thermostatic mixing valves and safety issues.
Noel Maida, 50, a carer who put the pensioner into the bath, was sentenced to 16 weeks, suspended for 18 months, after pleading guilty to a failure to discharge a duty. West pleaded guilty to the same charge, while Aster Healthcare pleaded guilty to corporate manslaughter.
After Norris was put into the bath she said it was cold, prompting Maida to tell a junior carer to add more hot water, the court heard. She was in the water for several minutes before he noticed the temperature was too high and she was taken out.
Norris was taken to hospital and transferred to the specialist burns unit at Chelsea and Westminster hospital, where she later died. Up to 12% of her body was covered in serious burns.
The company admitted falsifying water temperature records, falsifying a record of the servicing of the thermostatic mixing valves, and falsifying a contract of the servicing to be provided to the Care Quality Commission and Health and Safety Executive.
Aster Healthcare, under the director Sheth Jeebun, was run under a “chaotic” and “demanding” management style, Mrs Justice Thornton said. “Mr Jeebun delayed expenditure until he had to because regulators were breathing down his neck, and not when staff raised issues.”
The judge said Aster Healthcare was a company that had used “cost cutting” and had “fallen short of standards”. She added that attempts were made to mislead the investigation into the death, with false records being created and minutes of meetings rewritten after they had been destroyed.
The company was ordered to take out a full-page advertisement in two health and nursing magazines and include details of its conviction on its website for two months. Birdsgrove nursing home was closed in 2016 after the death of Norris.
Norris’s family released a statement remembering her as a “warm, generous and kind-hearted” woman who had left school at 14 to support her own mother in caring for 11 siblings.
She had always been an independent, stoical person who was happy with the simple things in life, and had been robbed of independence by dementia and become fully reliant on people to care for her.
“That trust was shattered when she died at the hands of the care staff at Birdsgrove nursing home who were there to look after her and keep her safe,” the family said.
Eran Cutliffe, a specialist prosecutor at the CPS, paid tribute to Norris’s family and said: “I hope that they can take some comfort from the guilty pleas, sentences imposed, and the fact that those responsible for her tragic death have been held accountable for their gross negligence and failures.”