Last month, Newcastle Upon Tyne Coroner’s Court issued Tyne Housing Association with a Report to Prevent Future deaths, following the tragic death of an intoxicated resident. The coroner specifically highlighted concerns regarding staff preparedness in dealing with the risks posed.
Colin Smith was a 39-year-old resident at Baker Bridge House of Tyne Housing Association, a hostel that specialises in providing emergency accommodation for homeless persons.
Mr Smith had a history of alcohol dependence syndrome, which is a chronic disease causing a person to crave alcohol, preventing their ability to control drinking levels. Generally, people with this disease also need to drink greater amounts to experience the same effect and have withdrawal symptoms after stopping use.
Early in the morning, Mr Smith consumed an excessive quantity of alcohol which led to a blood alcohol level of six and a half times the legal limit for driving. Upon return to Baker Bridge House thereafter, Mr Smith was highly and dangerously intoxicated.
A hostel worker assisted Mr Smith to his room, placing him on his side in bed. However, approximately 2 hours later upon a welfare check, the hostel worker found Mr Smith to be unresponsive. The cause of death was confirmed to be acute alcohol intoxication.
During the inquest, the coroner raised concerns based on the evidence, which revealed an absence of training, policies and programmes in place for hostel workers. Crucially there had been no programme for workers in respect of identifying and responding to signs and risks of intoxication, or the circumstances indicating the need for urgent medical intervention. These matters of concern were expressly noted in the report.
What can we learn?
Housing providers may deal with a broad range of residents and should regularly consider the particular risks and challenges that may arise in supporting categories of residents. This consideration is essential to allow the provider to identify the policies, procedures and measures it must implement to ensure the safety of its staff and residents.
Whilst this case focuses solely on risks of intoxication, it highlights the general need to ensure appropriate policies and procedures are in place to address the range of circumstances staff may encounter when supporting residents. Staff must also have appropriate and suitable training as to how they handle these circumstances and the expectations upon them, which is refreshed as appropriate.
Whilst some circumstances may be more routine and as such staff are very familiar as to the steps they must take, others will not be and will arise unpredictably or be particularly extreme. For this reason, it is essential that housing providers take appropriate and sufficient proactive action now, to ensure the processes and procedures are in place and staff are confident and competent as to how they should proceed.
Evidence was given which confirmed the absence of any training policy/programme for all hostel workers in respect of identifying the risks and signs of alcohol intoxication and circumstances indicating the need for urgent medical intervention.