Inquest opens into death of woman, 84, who died after spending freezing night outside care home in Stamford

Dorothy Spicer
Dorothy Spicer
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AN ELDERLY woman died after spending a freezing night outside the care home where she lived, an inquest heard today (Tuesday).

Dorothy Spicer, 84, was found lying outside Whitefriars Care Home in St George’s Avenue, Stamford, in the early hours of November 26, 2009. It is believed she wandered out from her room sometime the previous evening.

At an inquest into her death at Stamford Town Hall a jury heard that Mrs Spicer, known as Mick, was found by night staff at the home and was taken to Peterborough District Hospital.

She was diagnosed with hypothermia and was given antibiotics to deal with a possible chest infection.

On December 15 she was moved to the John Van Geest Ward at Stamford Hospital where she developed pneumonia. She died at the hospital on January 21, 2010.

Giving evidence, Mrs Spicer’s daughter Jane Howard described the difference in her mother’s condition before and after she was found outside the care home.

Mrs Howard said before November 26 her mother was able to walk between her room and the lounge of the care home without assistance.

She had a “wicked sense of humour” and was able to hold a conversation despite her dementia.

Mrs Howard said: “She could talk about past times with us and could sing along with old songs. Show Me The Way To Go Home was her favourite and she used to sing it to everyone.”

Mrs Howard said she had driven to Peterborough City Hospital on the morning of November 26 after learning what had happened to her mother and had noted the outside temperature displayed on her car’s dashboard as minus 1C.

She struggled to hold back tears as she described her mother’s condition when she arrived at her hospital bed.

She added: “She had the look in her eyes of a petrified animal. It was shocking to imagine my mother had spent a night outside. It is torment to imagine it.”

Mrs Howard told the jury she thought rules or guidelines had been broken and the staff at Whitefriars had let her mother down that night.

The inquest also heard from Patricia Woods, who worked at Whitefriars for 24 years before leaving in 2011.

Mrs Woods was a care leader at the home in November 2010, although she was not on duty at the time Mrs Spicer was found outside.

She told the jury how each external door in the home was locked and alarmed and staff would be alerted via pagers and two wall-mounted displays if a door was opened.

Mrs Woods said if a door was found open a search of the immediate area would be carried out, followed by a headcount.

If a resident was found to be missing, a full search of the grounds and the roads surrounding the house would be made.

She also described how the care leader in charge of the afternoon shift would give notes on each resident to the carers taking over for the night shift.

The jury then heard from engineer Graham Burrows of nurse call system manufacturer Courtney-Thorne.

Mr Burrows said he made a site visit on November 30, 2009, and found no fault in the alarm system.

He explained how computer logs showed an alarm had been deactivated on one of the care home’s external doors at 8.52pm on November 25 and was not reactivated until 9.19pm that evening.

The inquest also heard from two pathologists. Professor Guy Rutty carried out the post mortem examination on Mrs Spicer on January 25, 2012. He concluded that she died from pneumonia which was brought on by the lack of mobility caused by the night spent outside Whitefriars Care Home.

Prof Rutty told the jury the difference in Mrs Spicer’s clinical state before and after she was found outside had changed significantly and this was as a result of the hypothermia she suffered that morning.

But Dr Adam Coumbe, who produced a second report based on Mrs Spicer’s medical notes, said the pneumonia had nothing to do with hypothermia. Dr Coumbe instead told the jury he thought a lack of mobility was caused by a a sudden deterioration in Mrs Spicer’s dementia and this had led to her contracting the infection that killed her.

The inquest will resume tomorrow with the jury expected to hear from two carers who were on duty when Mrs Spicer was found in the Whitefriars grounds.