Care home company fined over 1 million pounds

A Care Home Company has been fined £1.6m as a consequence of the death of a resident at Oaklands Country Care Home near York in November 2012. The penalty was imposed on 28 September 2016 at York Crown Court after the company had previously pleaded guilty to a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

At the time of her death, Mrs Annie Barritt had a body temperature nearly 10 degrees below the hyperthermia threshold of 35C. A subsequent investigation disclosed that there were longstanding problems with the heating system at the home. Furthermore, on the day of her death, Mrs Barritt had been given neither hot food nor drink. In addition, her care plan had not been updated subsequent to her discharge from hospital a week before her death; the Court heard evidence that the need to keep her warm as her temperature was low was clearly highlighted.

According to a report in the Guardian Newspaper, the sentencing Judge described this tragic incident as “an accident waiting to happen”. He considered that there were “systematic, systemic failures” which resulted in Mrs Barritt’s death.

In the same report, Mr Tony Moule, the Environmental Health Officer at Harrogate Borough Council, is quoted as saying that “our investigation revealed that there were a number of serious failures with regard to health & safety legislation”.

Whilst no-one would argue with his comment that “no fine can ever compensate the family for the loss of their mother in such shocking circumstances” the level of the financial penalty imposed by the Court is yet another reminder of how Sentencing Guidelines introduced in February 2016 are achieving their stated aim.

As the guidelines make clear, the Courts are required to apply general principles when setting a financial penalty in such cases. The fine must be “sufficiently substantial to have a real economic impact which will bring home to both management and shareholders the need to comply with health & safety legislation”.

The Guidelines require the Court to consider the offence category by reference to the degree of culpability, the seriousness of the harm risk and the likelihood of harm being caused before then considering the starting point for the fine by reference to the size of the business.

The owners of the home, Maria Mallaband Care, with an annual turnover of £50m, would be classified as a large organisation for the purposes of assessing the level of the fine. It is also probable that Harm Category 1 was assigned to this case on the basis that the company’s breach of the 1974 Act resulted in the death of a resident. Whilst credit would have been given for the fact that the company entered a guilty plea at an early stage of the Court proceedings the comments of the sentencing Judge suggest that aggravating features also played a part in determining the level of the fine.

The level of the fine imposed by the Court, together with an Order that the costs of the Local Authority who brought the prosecution, amounting to £45,560, is yet a further reminder of the importance of ensuring compliance with health & safety legislation.

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