8 deaths – 10 days


I’m back to one of my least favourite topics today. Southern Cross Healthcare. And yes, the headline just about says it all.

Crown Nursing Home in Harwell, Oxfordshire is a small 16 bedded nursing care home which was run by Trinity Care – bought out by Southern Cross in 2002. It has a good inspection report.

Now, I don’t want to be unreasonable or unrealistic. People who live in nursing homes, by the very nature of the care, have high needs and people die when they become old. It happens. I imagine the death rate in nursing homes is substantially higher than that in the general population and I’d get no statistics or mathematics prizes for making that assumption.

But for half of the homes’ residents, namely, 8 people, to die in a 10 day period between January 9th and January 25th. Well, that is something that I’ve not come across in the years that I have been working with and around care homes.

The BBC report that

Eight pensioners died from “chest-related illnesses”

And a spokesman for Southern Cross says

“These were as a result of individual chest-related illnesses. All regulatory authorities are aware of the deaths and there is no concern over the cause of each death.

“The average age of each resident was 93-years-old and all had been happily living in the home for some years.

“Management at the home have evaluated their infection control procedures, which were of the highest standard, and are reviewing newly issued NHS guidelines.”

And with no knowledge at all of chest-related illnesses except a very cursory one. I think with an average age of 93, cold weather and chest illnesses there is a possible line there for the home to take.

It still seems more than a little uncanny to me.

The Mail offers a little more explanation

Half of the residents at a 16-bed care home died when they contracted ‘chest-related illnesses’ after being left without central heating for up to ten days.

The eight pensioners all died over two weeks shortly after the heating system at their home failed around Christmas.

Last night the son of a woman of 93 who was among the dead, accused the home’s owners, Southern Cross Healthcare, of responsibility for the deaths after it took up to ten days to have the fault fixed.

Now that, at least, offers a bit more plausibility to the story. Especially in conjunction with the story from a couple of weeks back at another Southern Cross Home where the heating allegedly failed with tragic results.

And the Mail have a statement from the Southern Cross spokesman again – he’s quite busy, clearly

A spokesman for Southern Cross Healthcare insisted: ‘The central heating broke down on Boxing Day.

‘Temporary heaters were made available and at no time did temperatures fall below the recommended level.’

The nursing home, which charges fees of £721-£760 per week, was rated ‘good’ by the CSCI at its most recent inspection

So are they honestly claiming that there is no link between broken heating and an uncommon amount of chest infections. I’m no doctor, maybe someone who is can comment with authority, but to me, it just doesn’t sit right.

The home manager, according to the local press, said pneumonia was the cause of death for all the residents, but the Southern Cross spokesman (again) seems to contradict her, as he

said pneumonia was only registered as the cause of death in six cases and instead pointed to “chest-related illnesses”.

The PCT has been very measured in the statement that it has given to a local newspaper

An Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust spokesman said: “The PCT is not aware of an evidenced pneumonia outbreak within Oxfordshire. We cannot speculate as to the cause of the deaths at the Crown Nursing Home, which is a private provider of care services.”

And the local social services have said that

The county council is not aware of any widespread problem with pneumonia in Oxfordshire.”

I am sure that the standard of care by the staff on the ground was good, that’s certainly what the families seem to indicate – but – issues of maintenance of buildings seems to have come up more than once and I admit that this is pure speculation – I wonder if any pressures have been put to save money in areas such as boiler maintenance or emergency central heating repairs.  Surely, this is some kind of corporate responsibility for people who need to be assured of warm, safe buildings and properties particularly throughout the winter.

As a layperson, but knowing that Southern Cross own a considerable amount of real estate, I’d have thought they might see fit to make sure it is at a good state of repair as the opposite can have massive effects.

Again, I had to dig around a bit for the details of this story. I’m amazed it hasn’t been more widely reported. And saddened to be honest. Each time I see one of these stories, I am plain saddened.

11 thoughts on “8 deaths – 10 days

  1. I hope the relatives get together and sue the ass off them. This is absolutely criminal. How I wish human rights legislation applied to care homes; it’s time the law was changed.

    • As of 1st December 2008, Independent Care Homes were made subject to the HRA and that the protection of the HRA was extended to those residents in Independent Care Homes under Section 145 of the Health and Social Care Act 2008.

  2. Nothing really to add, is there? I did hear though, Julie, that that law had changed and that that ruling about care homes not needing to adhere to the Human Rights Act was no longer valid but I’ll need to hunt around for a reference for that. I think it was something someone mentioned to me in passing that I meant to look up.

    • Thanks for that, Julie – it was one of those things that someone said to me at some point and I couldn’t quite remember – although it is ironic in a horrible way but needs to be mentioned that it was, in fact, Southern Cross Healthcare that brought the initial judgement around regarding the eviction.

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