OWNERS of a care home where a 72-year-old died after drinking caustic soda have been fined £40,000.
Standards at the Plas Rhosnesni home, owned by Hallmark Healthcare Wrexham, fell far short of what they should have been and problems were caused by poor management and a failure to train staff, said High Court judge Mr Justice Douglas Brown.
Patricia Holt, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, drank the sodium hydroxide cleaning fluid, which had been left in a drinking jug in an office, on October 8, 2001.
The fluid burned her mouth, tongue and upper airways so badly Wrexham doctors could do nothing except administer pain relief until she died six days later.
After the hearing her family made an emotional appeal for the Government to do more to protect the elderly and vulnerable and said their mother had been'let down'not just by the home and staff but by the whole care system.
Ian Holt, 49, of Heol Penderyst, Trevor, said: 'Finally our mother can rest in peace. My family and I have suffered a great deal and will continue to do so for some time.
'It has to be pointed out that there are hundreds if not thousands of vulnerable, elderly people in this socalled caring society who are, because of their inability to stand up and speak for themselves, open to abuse and neglect. This cannot and must not continue.
'Our mother was initially detained under the Mental Health Act for "her safety and the safety of others". In hindsight, she was appallingly let down not just by the home and staff but by the whole care system from bottom to top. When I say top, I mean Government.'
He added: 'Other individuals or families who want, or need, to have elderly loved ones placed in a care home, nursing, residential or mental institute, I beg you to run some simple checks yourselves, check to see current daily care plans and risk assessments on residents or patients and seek proof of staff training.'
Hallmark Healthcare, which has 11 homes throughout the country and employs a total of 750 staff, earlier pleaded guilty to failing to discharge its duty under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Matthew Dunford, prosecuting for the Health and Safety Executive, said Mrs Holt was known to wander around the home and often consume other residents' food and drink.
When a stain needed removing from a carpet a toxic degreaser was brought from the kitchen where it had been kept on a shelf.
Some was diluted and used to clean the carpet but the remainder was left overnight in a plastic water jug in an office, close to the residents' lounge.
Mrs Holt drank from the jug andw as rushed to hospital.
Peter Gregory, for Hallmark, said the company had not long taken over the home - which had been in receivership- and were in the process of refurbishing it in 2001.
The company felt 'profound regret' at what had happened and had since addressed all the issues of training and risk assessment.
'It's a very professional and well run company with health and safety foremost,' he said.
Mr Justice Brown said: 'It is now - the evidence is compelling that it was not in 2001.'
In his judgement, at that time, the company fell well short of appropriate standards.
He fined the company £40,000 and ordered them to pay just over £6,000 costs.
HSE Inspector Sally Nicholson said: 'This was a tragic accident which could so easily have been avoided. Businesses have a very clear duty to ensure the safety of both their employees and of others.
'The message must be that whether people at risk are vulnerable like Mrs Holt or not, employers must always be aware of any situation which could cause injury or death.'