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Family launches first coronavirus legal claim against care home after couple's death

Mirror logo Mirror 23/05/2020 Dan Warburton
a couple of people posing for the camera: Norman and Shirley Milne both died of Covid-19 at Sherrell House Care Home © Steve Milne Norman and Shirley Milne both died of Covid-19 at Sherrell House Care Home

The family of a couple who died of Covid-19 are preparing the UK’s first legal claim against a care home over the virus.

Norman and Shirley Milne, both 81, passed away eight days apart.

Relatives had installed a camera in Norman’s room at Sherrell House Care Home in Essex, which they say shows staff tending him without basic protective gear like masks and gloves.

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Son Steve Milne, 45, said: “Last week we had a double funeral for my parents.

"I feel numb, I don’t think it’s properly hit me yet.

a car driving down a street: Steve Milne’s parents funeral © Steve Milne Steve Milne’s parents funeral

“I feel guilty because we put them in the home but we feel like the way they were cared for was either naive or negligent.”

He has called in human rights lawyers and instructed them to fight for answers over the couple’s treatment.

They are among an estimated 11,600 care home residents to die from the virus – a quarter of the national toll.

Ministers have been blasted for failing to provide staff with testing and PPE – and their policy of releasing patients with the virus into care homes.

A care home worker gives Norman tablets directly to his mouth © Provided by Mirror A care home worker gives Norman tablets directly to his mouth

Steve said: “The Government were slow to act and the message that was sent out from the start was that older people in care homes were expendable.”

Norman and Shirley, who had dementia, moved to the care home in Chigwell last year from their house in nearby Buckhurst Hill.

They had been married for 58 years and had six grandchildren.

Former nursery boss Shirley was admitted to Harlow Hospital on April 8 a few days after showing symptoms and passed away four days later.

a man standing in a room: Two staff without any PPE are shown in this screenshot © Provided by Mirror Two staff without any PPE are shown in this screenshot

Norman, a retired electrical technician, was admitted there on April 15 but a test turned out to be negative.

Despite medics’ warnings, he returned to the home.

There Steve says his dad was served with an eviction notice because he had raised concerns about his care.

The care home said it acted because there was a “breakdown in trust from the family”, they were receiving “persistent emails” and were aware of social media posts.

a person standing in a room: Another worker feeds medicine directly into Norman's mouth © Provided by Mirror Another worker feeds medicine directly into Norman's mouth

Hours after receiving the notice on April 17, Norman was rushed back to hospital.

He died of Covid-19, sepsis and kidney failure three days later.

Steve claims that care home workers failed to use safe practices to protect his father from the virus despite his mother’s death days earlier.

The family had installed a camera in his room – with the consent of the home – prior to the lockdown because of previous concerns about his care.

The hidden camera catches two staff handling Norman © Provided by Mirror The hidden camera catches two staff handling Norman

The motion-detected camera enabled relatives to watch live when anyone tended to Norman.

They say they witnessed 63 incidents in 11 days where care home staff handled Norman without adequate PPE.

Steve claims they gave his dad oral medication without gloves – despite the fact he was awaiting the results of a virus test and was symptomatic.

Steve, a data analyst from Chingford, North-East London, said: “They’ve admitted that they didn’t use PPE on one occasion, but we’ve got video footage of dozens of occasions when they didn’t use it.”

a person sitting on a bed: This staff member has no PPE © Provided by Mirror This staff member has no PPE

He said one staff member told him 40 of the 93 residents had Covid symptoms at one point.

“This was a private care home – we were paying £1,300 a week for their care,” he said.

“The blame lies solely at the feet of management, not individual carers.

“They were gambling with my father’s life. I want those responsible held accountable for what they have done.”

Last week 13 relatives attended the funeral of Shirley and Norman in Buckhurst Hill, ending in Manor Park Cemetery, in East London.

Dad-of-one Steve – who has not been paid to speak to the Sunday People – said: “My mum was such a ray of sunshine, she was always so effervescent.

"As a couple they were so popular, so loved.

a man standing in a room with a bed and looking at the camera: The hidden camera could provide vital evidence © Provided by Mirror The hidden camera could provide vital evidence

“We couldn’t be there in their final days, that was taken away from us. This has devastated our close-knit family.”

The family’s solicitors Leigh Day say claims like Steve’s could be the “tip of the iceberg” as grieving loved ones consider action.

Emma Jones, a human rights partner at the firm, said: “Norman and Shirley should have been protected from the virus but instead fell victim to the outbreak.

"It is essential that their family are given answers into what went wrong in their final days.

“The only way people like the Milne family and thousands of others will get answers is if the Government agrees to hold a public inquiry or a full and thorough independent investigation.”

Excelcare, which runs the home, admits a worker did not wear proper PPE on one occasion while aiding Norman.

a person wearing a red shirt: In this screenshot, Norman's phone is handed to him © Provided by Mirror In this screenshot, Norman's phone is handed to him In a letter to Steve’s family it stated: “Having reviewed your video footage it is clear to see that the nurse who administered your father’s medication on the morning of the April 15 clearly did not use the required PPE or follow the safe administration of medication.

"This matter has resulted in disciplinary action.”

The firm insisted staff were following Public Health England guidance on PPE.

A spokesman for Excelcare said: “The concerns raised are currently undergoing investigation and we are therefore unable to comment at this stage. In the meantime we wish to give our assurances that our residents and their families are at the heart of everything we do.

“We take all complaints very seriously and, where needed, we will learn lessons and use these to improve our services and continue to make them safer and more responsive.”

In pictures: Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak around the world (Photos)

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Stay at home as much as possible to stop coronavirus spreading - here is the latest government guidance. If you think you have the virus, don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland, anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.

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