Police investigation after woman’s death at Brighton care home

Police have launched an investigation after a woman died at a care home. Officers are looking into “possible neglect offences” after the death of Barbara Merritt, 78, at Heath Hill Lodge in Heath Hill Avenue, Brighton.

A Sussex Police spokesman yesterday said no one had been arrested at this stage.

Brighton and Hove City Council will now move people out of the privately-run care home after expressing concerns that residents were “at risk”.

A council spokesman said they are taking action because of “serious concerns about the standards of care” at the home.

The home is owned by Joginder Singh Vig and Beant Kaur Vig, who run four other homes in Hove through the company Vigcare.

In 2007 the council removed residents from another Vigcare-run home, Miles Court, in Hereford Street, Brighton, after the death of 84-year-old Charles Hounslow.

The home closed after the then Social Care Inspection found it to be failing in all areas.

A spokesman for Heath Hill Lodge said the owners are taking the concerns “very seriously” and had suspended some members of staff.

He said steps had been taken to improve the level of care but that it is “unfortunate and unnecessary” that residents are being removed.

He added it would be wrong to comment on the neglect allegations whilst the police are investigating.

Mrs Merritt died of natural causes on October 8 last year.

A Sussex Police spokesman said: “Police are investigating possible neglect offences, contrary to Section 44 of the Mental Capacity Act 2003, following the death from natural causes of 78-year old Barbara Merritt, a resident at Heath Hill Lodge, Bevendean, on October 8 last year.

“A report will be submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for a decision as to whether there should be any proceedings, once the enquiry is complete. Nobody has been arrested at this stage.

“We are not investigating any other allegations concerning the premises or staff.”

The Government social care inspector, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), gave the home a no star rating in its latest published inspection report.

Two unannounced inspections in August last year found the home to be “poor”.

The commission report found that “residents’ health, personal and social care needs are at risk of not being met”.

The report said staff often did not record the correct dosage of medication, with some residents being given too much or two little.

Some nurses could also not understand information on some prescriptions and one resident was subjected to weekly “invasive” blood sugar tests unnecessarily.

The majority of the residents at Heath Hill Lodge and their relatives were unaware of the concerns of the council and the commission until they were told on Friday that they were being moved out.

A council spokesman said: “We have serious concerns about the standards of care at Heath Hill Lodge. Our view is that the clinical needs of a number of residents are not being met, and that this is placing residents at risk.

“There have been a number of investigations into the care provided at the home in the last few months. During this time we have worked long and hard with the home’s management to try to address our concerns.

“We are now attempting to work with them to ensure that moving the residents can be done in a planned and sensitive way.”

The CQC report found that staff would often go into the toilets whilst residents were using them without permission.

Another resident was forced to wear continent pads daily even though there was confusion about whether she was incontinent at all.

The CQC gave the home a care plan to improve standards.

It also gave a recommendation that “urgent action was required to ensure individual’s privacy and dignity”.

The council then made the decision to remove the 20 council funded residents last week.

The four other Vigcare run homes in Hove are Portland House Nursing Home, in Portland Road, Roan Rest Home, in Pembroke Crescent, and Springfields Nursing Home, in Langdale Road, which were all found to be ‘good’ in the last inspection.

Sackville Nursing Home, in Sackville Road, was found to be “adequate”.

The majority of the residents from Heath Hill Lodge are being rehomed by the council social services department.

However two residents fund the £550 to £800 a week cost themselves.

John Head’s sister 82-year-old Winnie Craker is one of the self-funding residents.

Mr Head, of Fitch Drive, Brighton, said: “I can understand social services concerns but surely it’s not as if you can’t put it right. She does not want to go.

“If the council had grave concerns surely the relatives should have been told.”

A Heath Hill Lodge spokesman said: “Our main priority is the safety of our residents. With this in mind we suspended members of staff from employment and immediately brought in expert nursing consultants to rectify the issues raised.

“Staff have received further training and we have since been told by CQC that there are also a number of positive aspects within Heath Hill Lodge.

“We do have serious concerns about the way that the inspection was carried out by the council and we think that it is unfortunate and unnecessary that residents have been told to move from the home.

“However, we recognise the worry and distress that must have been caused to residents and their relatives as a result and are very sorry that they have had to go through such upheaval.”

The council spokesman added: “While we understand that this is a difficult time for the residents and their families, the safety of these vulnerable residents is our top priority. We are talking to residents and their families to ensure their individual concerns are addressed.”

A CQC spokeswoman said: “CQC has undertaken inspections of Heath Hill Lodge and found there to be a number of shortfalls in the delivery of care which is having a serious impact upon the welfare of individuals living in the home.

“CQC are working with Brighton and Hove City Council social services to ensure that the safety and wellbeing of the residents is given priority. CQC is now following an enforcement strategy to address the issues related to this registered service.”

She added: “De-registering the home would be one of the areas to consider. That is within our powers and an action we will be considering.”

If CQC do de-register the home it will no longer be legally able to run.