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In early 2017 69-year-old Wendy Simpson fell and fractured her hip. Prior to this she had lived at home with her husband Michael. Her mobility deteriorated dramatically however, and a decision was made to move Mrs Simpson into the Amwell Care Home in Melton Mowbray.
Mrs Simpson moved into the care home on 31 May 2017. A copy of the initial assessment carried out by the care home confirmed that they were aware of Mrs Simpson’s previous history of strokes, type 2 diabetes and noted grade 4 pressure sores on both heels. The pressure sores were treated by District Nurses, who were not employed directly by the care home, however their staff were nonetheless responsible for turning her to alleviate the pressure in between treatments.
Mrs Simpson’s drug regime included regular medication for high blood pressure. When visiting on 2 June 2017 Mrs Simpson’s family noticed that she was unwell and appeared almost lifeless. They asked if medical attention had been sought but were told she was fine and that a doctor would be called in due course. The family were not reassured and called an ambulance. Paramedics immediately rushed Wendy to A&E as her speech was slurred, and she had right sided weakness.
Once at the hospital it was established that Mrs Simpson had suffered a stroke, brought on by the fact that she had not been given her medication for high blood pressure. While in hospital, it was also established that both grade 4 pressure sores on the heel had deteriorated and that Wendy had developed a pressure sore on her sacrum and had oral thrush.
Mrs Simpson was discharged from hospital two weeks later on 16 June 2017 with specific advice that her severe ulcers be treated and that she should be given pureed food. No care was provided in relation to the pressure sores until almost a week after her return to the home. This failure to monitor and dress her wounds or seek medical attention led to further deterioration in the sores. Staff did not provide Mrs Simpson with pureed food as prescribed, simply mashing up her meals, which caused her to choke and vomit. Despite her being diagnosed with oral thrush, the family also discovered that no assistance with oral care had been provided and Wendy had developed a mouth infection.
Upon visiting Mrs Simpson on 25 June 2017 her family noticed that incontinence pads had been used to dress the wounds on both heels and the back of her legs. The pads were held in place with very tight bandages. When these were removed, there were significant red marks and pressure marks to the toes. The heel wounds had deteriorated with fresh new sores and an offensive odour.
Mrs Simpson was therefore readmitted to hospital on that same day and was considered to be poorly nourished and suffering from pneumonia. The relevant food charts were missing from her notes. She was again admitted to hospital on 16 July 2017, where a further grade 2 sacral sore was found.
Mrs Simpson died less than four months later on 8 September 2017 after the family, despairing of the care she had received, had moved her to Waltham Hall private nursing home in Melton Mowbray. Attentive staff at Waltham Hall treated Mrs Simpson with the care and dignity she deserved, but unfortunately the irreversible damage to her health and wellbeing had already been done. Her death certificate recorded her death as being due to ischaemic limb and peripheral vascular disease.
As executor of his late wife’s estate, Michael Simpson turned to Sarah Cunliffe, a solicitor specialising in care home neglect and abuse cases, for help in getting answers and justice for his beloved wife following her death in September and the evident failures in care she suffered. Shoosmiths took the case on a ‘no-win-no-fee’ basis.
“The defendant care home didn’t respond to us on the issue of liability within the timescale permitted. More importantly, despite many requests, they did not disclose Wendy’s care records – a necessary step to enable us to establish the sequence of events - so we therefore issued an application for pre action disclosure (a court order forcing them to provide the information).”
The care homes representatives agreed to deal with the application just prior to the scheduled court hearing and the records confirmed Sarah’s thoughts about the case and the prospect of success. This was significant, since as Sarah points out, when injury or death is a consequence of cumulative events, it is not necessary to prove that a given negligent act (or acts) was the sole cause. It is sufficient to show that such a negligent act or acts made a material contribution to the outcome.
The evidence from a safeguarding investigation carried out by Leicestershire County Council identified at least four clear examples of negligence: failure to provide medication in the first instance which led to her stroke, failure to adequately feed her such that she became malnourished, failure to turn or otherwise care for Mrs Simpson resulting in pressure sores and failure to attend to her oral health, leading to a mouth infection.
Shoosmiths then commissioned a report from a geriatrician which confirmed that the cause of Mrs Simpson’s death was a combination of many cumulative factors. This report was important too in helping to establish the quantum of the claim (i.e. how much the claim would be worth in financial terms). Before proceeding Sarah sought counsel’s advice from Doughty Street Chambers in London, who confirmed that the allegations seemed well evidenced and they did not think any credible defence could be made by the defendant.
The case finally settled for £25,000, but true to Amwell’s form, the monies were late in being paid, so Shoosmiths are now also seeking interest on that late payment. Sarah notes that while awards in cases such as these are never normally large, finance is rarely the motivation behind these claims. Getting answers and trying to ensure others do not have to suffer what they have gone through is, without exception, what drives clients in these cases. However, she is pleased with amount of compensation won for Mr Simpson:
“The settlement for Michael includes a payment of a statutory bereavement award, funeral costs, and consideration of his dependency on his late wife’s income (pensions, benefits etc) offset against his own income and the fact that, in future, he may face the need himself to spend income on care home fees.”
Michael Simpson said:
“Sarah was compassionate, understanding and professional at all times. I can’t thank her enough.”
Picture above: Wendy Simpson, the deceased.