Pensioner died under stairlift after her carers’ English was too poor for 999 call
By John James and Daisy Graham-Brown
A SENIOR coroner has issued a warning over the inability of foreign health staff to speak English after a 91-year- old with dementia died trapped under a stairlift.
Two care home workers did not understand the difference between Barbara Rymell being ‘alive’ or ‘alert’ or ‘breathing’ and ‘bleeding’ during a 999 call, an inquest heard.
The lack of English by the Romanian and Indian workers meant they could not explain what had happened and ‘severely hampered’ the call handler’s response.
A ‘meaningful’ assessment of her condition was ‘virtually impossible’, said coroner Samantha Marsh. This meant Mrs Rymell’s case was classed as ‘ serious’ instead of needing ‘immediate’ help and she had died by the time paramedics arrived at the care home in Langport, Somerset.
She had moved to Ashley House four months before and was known to be frail, with blurred vision and a high risk of falling.
Mrs Marsh has now written to the Home Office and social care minister Helen Whately to warn of the risk of future deaths if standards of English are not addressed.
In a highly critical report, she said the current test for foreign health staff is ‘wholly insufficient’.
The senior coroner for Somerset added that the pensioner had ‘relied on others to keep her safe’. Mrs Rymell was the only resident with a bedroom on the first floor but was incapable of using the stairs or the stairlift on her own, the inquest heard.
Outlining the events leading up to her death in August last year, the coroner’s report said: ‘Two carers were on duty; neither of whom were native English-speaking nationals; one was Romanian and the other was Indian.
‘At 19.27 one called 999 to request an ambulance. It was clear, on the evidence, that Barbara had been left unattended on the mechanical chair for around five minutes.
‘This was contrary to the rules and procedures of Ashley House. During those five minutes, she has left the seat of the stairlift and proceeded to climb the stairs, which she was unable to do safely.
‘She has fallen downwards. Barbara has been found, having fallen awkwardly, landing with her head trapped under the chair for the mechanically operated stairlift.’
The inquest in Taunton concluded that Mrs Rymell died of misadventure as a result of her fall, a combination of her dementia and frailty, and ‘mechanical obstruction of respiration’.
But Mrs Marsh said she had been shown evidence that at least one the carer’s understanding of English did not meet the standards required to work in Britain.
South West Care Homes, which runs Ashley House, has been approached for comment.
Last night Mrs Rymell’s daughter, Elaine Curtis, 67, of Uxbridge, Middlesex, told of the phone call she received from one of the staff.
‘She didn’t speak very good English and just said straight away “your mother’s dead” and that was it, nothing else’ said Mrs Curtis.
‘I was so frantic and kept asking her what had happened but she was just talking in her own language. The only thing she was able to say was the word “stairs”.
‘I was so desperate to speak to someone who could speak good enough English to explain what was happening with my mum.
‘It was 8.09pm I got that call and then I had to wait four hours until the police turned up at my house at midnight and were able to tell me what happened.
‘We had moved her to Ashley House so she could interact with people and so that she could be cared for properly.’
‘Desperate to speak to someone’
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