The most likely cause of Irene’s tragic death was only uncovered at post mortem (the first carried out at Tameside General Hospital and a second conducted by the Home Office at Oldham) when the pathologist discovered a latex glove lodged in her throat which had blocked her airway.
Born and raised in the Openshaw area of Manchester, Irene and her husband Brian Collins lived and worked in South Africa for many years, before returning to the UK in 2010. The couple moved to Dukinfield in 2013 when their daughter Tracy noticed the first signs of dementia in her mother and tried to persuade her father to seek help. Irene got progressively worse and the family had been liaising with Social Services for some months when Brian died suddenly in February 2017, which precipitated Irene being taken into residential care.
Irene was initially admitted to Hurst Hall Care Home for a few days before being transferred to Firbank House Nursing & Residential Care Home, Smallshaw Lane, Ashton-under-Lyne, which claims to specialise in the care of the elderly with dementia. At first, Irene seemed to settle well, but she would frequently wander after care workers, following them round the building or trying to enter other residents’ rooms.
Staff at the home were also aware of Irene’s propensity to put things in her mouth: crayons, flowers, napkins and other non-food items. No-one actually saw Irene ingest the latex glove, but the item found at post mortem was consistent with the gloves located in wall-mounted dispensers used at the home.
‘There is no doubt that Irene’s dementia and wandering made it difficult for staff to keep a watch on her at all times. However, given Irene’s well-known habit of trying to eat inappropriate items, especially around meal times, more vigilance might have prevented these tragic events. Several members of staff did see Irene in the communal lounge on the night of 16 June 2018 and assumed she was asleep, when in fact she was already dead.’
The pathologist also reported the presence of two powerful sedative drugs (lorazepam and possibly naproxen) in Irene’s blood stream which had not been prescribed to her, raising the possibility of a prescribing/drug administration incident that could also require further investigation.
Sarah Cunliffe concluded:
‘The family have no doubt that the inquest will find the cause of Irene’s death to be upper airway obstruction, due to her ingesting the latex glove. Of greater concern to them is trying to understand how, when such behaviour was well known to the care home staff, greater vigilance or an amended care plan was not exercised or put in place. They hope a full inquest will give them clarity about what perhaps might have been done to prevent Irene’s death and lessons that could be learned to prevent such tragedies happening to others.’
Pictured above: Irene Collins.
Manchester Evening News:
Care Home Professional:
BBC News (24 July 2019):
Credit: BBC North West.
This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2023