Man at serious risk of choking died in burger joint after care company failed him, family says

The family of a man who choked to death after a support worker took him to a pub for a burger says he was failed by a care company, after an inquest jury found he was “unlawfully killed”.

Tony Wilkinson (pictured), 57, from Barnsley, who had a genetic condition known as Fragile X syndrome, which causes learning challenges and intellectual disability, died after he began choking in a pub at Manchester Airport in April 2018 while eating a Bronx burger.

Mr Wilkinson’s family said he was only supposed to be given mashed food and thickened drinks, but they said he was also taken for fish, chips and mushy peas in Cleethorpes a week before his death and support workers often provided him with unsuitable meals.

Sheffield Coroner’s Court confirmed that a jury returned a verdict earlier this week that Mr Wilkinson was unlawfully killed.

Mr Wilkinson was in the care of Stars Social Support Limited – a private company which specialises in providing care packages for adults – on behalf of Barnsley Council since 2014.

He was initially supported at a day care centre, with staff visiting his shared accommodation, but, after a choking incident in February 2018, Stars staff were then required to provide 24-hour care and supervision, his family said.

They said Mr Wilkinson was unable to manage his own eating and drinking, and staff were warned he faced a serious risk of choking.

Mr Wilkinson’s sisters June Mcdonald and Linda Swallow said in a statement: “We wouldn’t trust them to look after a goldfish now.

“The untimely death of our brother was preventable and avoidable, and a jury has now found it to have been unlawful.”

Ms Mcdonald and Ms Swallow said a similar incident in 2018 should have prompted management to ensure his care plans were followed.

They said: “That clearly didn’t happen as he was then taken out twice, firstly given fish, chips and mushy peas, and then a burger which killed him. Had this company acted in the way it should have, our brother would still be with us today.”

They added: “All of this has greatly impacted our mental health and our brother deserved so much better.

“Hopefully lessons are learned from all involved.

“The word care is used to describe services provided, but it is not accurate as true care is not what is given.

“That goes from local authorities selecting these companies and then washing their hands of responsibility when things go wrong, to the providers themselves.”

Solicitor Simon Wilson, of Hudgell Solicitors, said the inquest highlighted “a shocking lack of organisation and communication” which led to “inconsistent and inappropriate care which endangered life”.

He said: “Some of the evidence presented at this inquest was truly shocking as it painted a picture of a complete lack of organisation and communication which led to no clarity or consistency to the care provided to Mr Wilkinson.

“The lack of clarity and consistency over his care ultimately proved life-costing.”

Stars Social Support, which has not commented, must now provide the coroner with details of measures being taken to address the concerns raised, Mr Wilson said.

The company is currently under review by the Care Quality Commission.

Wendy Lowder, executive director for adults and communities at Barnsley Council, said: “The council wishes to pass its condolences to Mr Wilkinson’s family and to reassure them and the public that our continued priority is ensuring the safety and well-being of our residents.

“We’ll continue to regularly review our adult social care processes to make sure they deliver high-quality care and support.

“We are continuing to engage with the Care Quality Commission and the coroner regarding the inquest into Mr Wilkinson’s death.

“Stars Social Support is a non-contracted provider, meaning they’re not contracted as part of the council’s framework agreement.

“However, we have actively reviewed Stars’ provision in the borough and have contacted all existing service users who are supported by Stars and will support any individual who wishes to change their care provider.”

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