Prosecutions for corporate manslaughter are relatively rare - but recently we have seen a care provider, Aster Healthcare, plead guilty to the offence.
The factual circumstances around the prosecution are as follows. On 8 February 2015, Ms Francis Norris was put into a bath by a care worker and a junior care worker at the home owned by Aster Healthcare. Once in the bath, Ms Norris said the water was cold and so the junior care worker was told to add more hot water. Ms Norris was left in the bath for several minutes before it was noticed the temperature of the water was too hot. Ms Norris was taken to hospital but sadly died three days later.
The former maintenance worker for the home had raised issues about the boilers. He gave evidence that in response to his request that the boilers should be serviced, an unqualified gas engineer attended (whose work was later condemned by another engineer) and that he was then treated as a troublemaker and later made redundant.
Aster Healthcare was fined £1.04 million and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £184,513.
The prosecution of Aster Healthcare for corporate manslaughter provides a number of lessons for care providers.
- Holistic view of health and safety – This case emphasises the importance of providers taking a holistic view to safety. Providers must ensure they risk assess all aspects of their operations – from the provision of medication to water hygiene/temperature to fire safety.
- Culture is key - It is important everyone at all levels and in all areas of a business embraces health and safety. It was clear that the maintenance worker, in this case, was concerned about the boiler but was not properly listened to. Operational staff must be engaged and encouraged to raise health and safety concerns and they must know that their concerns will properly and fully be considered. A lack of attention from management as to health and safety is only likely to perpetuate apathy and complacency amongst operational staff.
- Issues must be addressed - Here the issues with the hot water systems were known and sufficient action was not taken. If providers are aware of concerns, action must be taken to address those concerns and to mitigate any associated risks for those affected, whether it be employees, service users or members of the public.
- Cost cutting – Much of the evidence regarding the management of the home was that they did not want to spend money and had a tight control of costs. Providers should not look to cut their costs at the expense of safety. If an incident does occur, this attitude and approach will likely be treated as an aggravating factor, increasing the chances of prosecution and the size of any fine issued.
- Provision of documents - Aster Healthcare was found to have provided water temperature records and records of the thermostatic mixing valves service history, these were falsified to the CQC and HSE, and they had been found to have re-written relevant meeting minutes. Whilst we would advise any provider facing investigation and potential enforcement action to seek legal advice before considering any response, fundamentally providers must not mislead any investigation. In fact, doing this may lead to prosecution in itself.