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Parents Heartbroken: ‘Our Son Could Have Been Dead For Eight Hours Before Nursing Staff Noticed’

Lawyers Say Public Needs Reassurance That Lessons Have Been Learnt


By Helen MacGregor

The heartbroken parents of a disabled man who died in a nursing home from a treatable illness within 12 hours of arriving have condemned the care he received after an investigation into his death found he could have been dead for up to eight hours before staff noticed.
Despite a care plan drawn up by the care home’s manager stating that Dean Spicer, who had been admitted for respite care following a severe bout of diarrhoea, was to be checked every hour, paramedics said he could already have been dead for up to eight hours when he was discovered with hypothermia and rigor mortis by staff last February.

A subsequent post mortem into Dean’s death, who suffered from severe arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis that left him reliant on a wheelchair, found that he had suffered a lung infection that was likely to have developed as his immune system was so low.

But despite significant failings in the standards of care provided by Havelock House in Polegate, Sussex, being flagged in an investigation by social services and a subsequent review by the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the family’s lawyer says ‘grave concerns remain’ as to whether lessons have truly been learnt.

Anita Jewitt, a medical law expert at Irwin Mitchell has been representing the 48-year-old’s parents in their battle for answers since their son’s death. The parents say that the social services investigation and the CQC review flagged a number of ‘very worrying’ issues at the home, including:
• Its failure to ensure residents’ individual needs were met
• Its failure to keep accurate reports with regards to patient care
• Its failure to ensure sufficient staff were on duty
• its failure to train and support staff adequately
• Its failure to ensure staff always communicated and interacted with residents in a positive way

However, more than a year since his death, Dean’s parents, Les and Frances Spicer from Hailsham in East Sussex, say they are yet to receive assurances that improvements have been made to the quality of care the nursing home offers.

Anita Jewitt, a medical law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s London office representing Dean’s parents, said: “Dean’s parents placed their trust in the staff at Havelock House to look after their son who, by their own admission, should have been checked on hourly. The fact that the police, social services and the CQC investigated the time it took for his body to be discovered after paramedics had been called demonstrates just how seriously they failed in their duty of care on this occasion.

“Whilst liability was not admitted by Havelock House, it goes without saying that Mr and Mrs Spicer have been left shocked and appalled at their loss, and continue to struggle to come to terms with what happened amidst grave concerns that lessons have not been learnt.

“They are now calling on the home, and the authorities, to provide assurances that procedures have been reviewed and that no one will ever suffer the way they have going forward.”

Dean, who lived at home with help from round-the-clock carers, had been referred to Havelock House by a locum GP following a severe case bout of diarrhoea that left him weak and unable to stand. A care plan put in place by the manager stipulated that he should be checked by staff every hour and turned every other hour to prevent bedsores.

But an investigation by social services later raised concerns about the record keeping of the two members of staff on duty the night Dean died which flagged conflicting reports about when they had last checked on him – one member of staff had even recorded a check that had never taken place and was unable to say why.

Frances, 66, said:   “When Dean was admitted to Havelock House we expected him to be in for a few days while he recovered from his illness and then able to return to his home where he had help from carers.

“Les and I went to help settle him in and we were concerned about his bedroom being freezing cold. We told the nurses several times that we thought Dean had a temperature and was ill. We emphasised to them how important it was that he was regularly turned because he struggled to move due to arthritis and his poor mobility and they seemed to understand.

“When we left Dean that evening he still looked very unwell and we also told the Manager, who is a registered nurse that we thought he should see a doctor, but she promised they would take good care of him. The next morning I rang Havelock House just before 9.30am to say I had left a message with Dean’s GP to see if he would visit, but the owner cut me off and said she was very sorry but Dean had died during the night.

“I was in absolute disbelief. I just couldn’t believe they hadn’t phoned me sooner as the ambulance had been called at 7.50am. It soon became apparent that they hadn’t contacted me because they hadn’t discovered Dean had died until the carer had found him unresponsive that morning. It distresses me to think Dean was clearly unwell and should have received treatment yet nobody was there for him.

“We only hope the concerns raised in the CQC report have been tackled and learnt from so no other family has to go through the heartache that we have.”

The family have since received a settlement from the owners of Havelock House Nursing Home.

Anita Jewitt added: “Those whose loved ones are in homes have a right to know that their family members are safe and being given the care they deserve and, when failings are identified, the findings of subsequent investigations made public. Only then can they rest assured that lessons have been learnt.”

Read more about Irwin Mitchell’s expertise relating to Fatal Claims and Pressure Sore Claims.