Felixstowe nursing home and manager fined £17.5k following man’s window fall death

Highcliffe House Nursing Home, Felixstowe.

Highcliffe House Nursing Home, Felixstowe. - Credit: Archant

A Felixstowe nursing home and its manager have been fined for failing to properly care for a man who fell to his death from a second floor window.

William Willmott, 79, shared thoughts of suicide with a visiting friend, who reported concerns to staff at Highcliffe House, where he died six days later in July 2016.

The company and its manager, Alison Quilter-Cudworth, had admitted health and social care breaches before their sentencing at South East Suffolk Magistrates’ Court, in Ipswich, on Thursday.

Bena Brown, prosecuting for the Care Quality Commission (CQC), argued both failed to take steps to avoid harm to a “vulnerable, frail man”, whose bedroom window was not fitted with restrictors.

She said Quilter-Cudworth had failed to ensure proper assessment of risk in his environment, which included a stool he pushed against the window on the day he died.

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Prosecutors said the widower had made clear his intent – but no psychological referral was made.

Highcliffe House was rated inadequate a month after the incident, which happened four months after Mr Willmott transferred from hospital, where he was treated for lung disease.

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Eight windows still lacked restrictors six months after they were recommended in a self-commissioned safety audit in 2013. Meanwhile, just 12 of 25 staff had taken an online safety training course when Mr Willmott died.

Solicitor Andrew McGee shared the “profound regret” of both defendants, who he said accepted they failed to take all steps and exercise due diligence after July 8, when they were made aware of Mr Willmott’s suicidal ideation.

“Prior to that date, they took effective steps to address his anxiety – predominantly related to his concerns about adequate access to oxygen supply, which both defendants made efforts to ensure he had,” said Mr McGee.

Mr Willmott was seen by a GP, social worker and specialists at the request of the defendants – but none raised concerns of suicide.

“This wasn’t cost saving,” said Mr McGee. “It wasn’t negligence.

“Multiple inspections never raised the issue of window restrictors, while the audit raised it as a medium priority.”

A subsequent CQC inspection found improvements at the home, which spent £24,000 on training and imposed its own temporary embargo on admitting residents.

The firm was fined £16,500, while Quilter-Cudworth was fined £1,000.

District Judge Celia Dawson called William Willmott a “much loved gentleman”, who was unhappy about his illness and being in care.

She said Highcliffe House had an otherwise exemplary health and safety record but had failed to fully adopt guidelines on window restrictors and adequately risk assess his suicidal ideation upon hearing the account of his visiting friend.

Mr Willmott’s nephew, Anthony, said the retired builder had loved his garden before having to move.

“We believed we’d put uncle somewhere safe and that he was being looked after, but he wasn’t getting the care he deserved,” he added.

“I was shocked at what I read when I saw the case files relating to this prosecution.

“Nothing will bring my uncle back or change what happened to him, but we hope some good comes of his death, and hopefully this will stop something like this happening elsewhere.”

William Willmott is survived by his brother.

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