THE sister of man who choked and died when his carers fed him a ‘chicken bite’ – knowing he could only swallow mashed food – says he and other vulnerable people have been let down by their sentence.
Andrew Strazdins, 52, of Birmingham, was being taken on a holiday break to Cornwall by Barbara Arch and Wendy Silvester – who had provided care to him for a number of years – when he choked on the food in the back of a car.
The two carers, who worked for Lifeways Community Care, were each originally charged with gross negligence manslaughter, but admitted a lesser offence under section 33 of the Health and Safety At Work Act, which prosecutors accepted.
Mr Strazdins had severe learning difficulties from being a child and suffered from the swallowing condition dysphagia. Although he lived alone, he needed community care, something which had been provided through Lifeways for a number of years.
He had been in the care of the local authority since the age of eight, and Lifeways was employed by the authority to provide 24-hour care. Barbara Arch had known him for 15 years and had cared for him for 10 years. Wendy Silvester had cared for him for three years.
They were both fully aware that he had to be supervised when eating and given the right type of ‘mashed food’, and that he should only be fed while sat in a chair and at a table to prevent him from choking.
A risk assessment had warned specifically of the risk of choking and that he may die as a result of not feeding him as required. Arch had even witnessed a choking incident in 2008, relating to Mr Strazdins himself.
Arch, aged 58, of Smallshire Way, Stourbridge, West Midlands, and Silvester, aged 50, of Newland Court, Birmingham, admitted failing to discharge their duties as carers and were handed six month jail terms, suspended for 12 months, at Exeter Crown Court.
However, Mr Strazdins’ sister, Elaine Scott, of Halesowen, Dudley, said it amounted to them ‘getting away with it’.
She said: “I simply cannot comprehend why they gave Andrew the chicken bite on that day as they had looked after him for so long and knew he couldn’t swallow foods unless they were the right kind of consistency.
“In my mind and they have completely got away with it with this sentence. It has let Andrew down and all other vulnerable people who require the care of others.”
Hudgell Solicitors to investigate failings in care across all agencies
Renu Daly, of medical negligence specialists Hudgell Solicitors, is now representing Mrs Scott, and says legal action is being investigated, possibly against both Lifeways Care and the local authority, holding them liable for the actions of Barbara Arch and Wendy Silvester.
Miss Daly said: “The simple facts of this case are that the negligent actions of these two care workers caused the death of Mr Strazdins and we feel the final charge and sentence was insufficient for the gravity of the offence, which ultimately cost a man his life.
“They both had a duty of care to him and quite simply they chose to take a risk over his health and that caused his death. The court heard he was found with a piece of chicken lodged in his throat and other pieces in his stomach and airways showed he had eaten at least four similar pieces before he died.
“We feel questions should be asked as to how it can be appropriate to consider this only an offence under the health and safety at work act. We hope a forthcoming serious incident review will hold people, agencies and institutions to account as to what the failings were and how they were allowed to happen.
“Elaine has been through a traumatic period waiting for this case to go through the legal process, and she can only feel that it so far has let her down, and more importantly Andrew and all other vulnerable people who rely on the care of others.”
Sister had put trust and faith in carers
Mrs Scott said she had found the ordeal of seeing her brother’s carers go through the legal system difficult, given she had always put complete trust and faith in them prior to his death.
“When they were first charged with manslaughter, I was hopeful that there would be some justice for Andrew. They were responsible for looking after him and caring for him and they let him down in the most inexcusable way,” she said.
“It can only be that they fed him the chicken bite to keep him quiet and make their life a bit easier, and that attitude caused his death. It makes me wonder how many other times they did things they shouldn’t have for convenience, and how many other carers take short cuts and risks with the health of people they care for.
“I know them being sent to prison would not bring Andrew back, but what message does this sentence send out? There have been no consequences at all.
“The sentence should have acted as a warning to others in the care industry, but I don’t feel it has. I just hope Andrew’s death makes others providing care realise that if you don’t follow procedures and take risks, you are playing with peoples’ lives.”