Hefty fine levied on care home for mice droppings

The Acorns Care Centre
The Acorns Care Centre

Bosses at a care home which had its kitchen and dining room temporarily closed down after a mice infestation have been fined £105,000.

Droppings and gnawed woodwork were found at several locations at Acorn Care Centre in Hindley by environmental health inspectors, Wigan and Leigh Magistrates’ Court was told.

Magistrates chairman Anthony Mills said that the company’s actions, over a considerable period of time, had caused a “high risk of harm” to “extremely vulnerable residents” at the Parkside home.

Last November the Care Quality Commission (CQC) visited Acorn and later rated it as ‘inadequate’ - the second time it had been placed in special measures by the regulator.

Guilty pleas were entered to five contraventions of food safety and hygiene regulations and the firm was also ordered to pay £1,900 in court costs.

Alison Henderson, prosecuting on behalf of Wigan Council, said that environmental health officers were drafted in after a whistleblower had alerted the CQC about a serious mice problem at Acorn.

A hygiene inspection took place at the home, which has 39 beds, in May 2017 and staff were questioned over whether there was a rodent infestation.

But the claims were denied. Residents had been advised though not to leave any food out.

However officers found evidence of mice droppings in a number of locations, including the kitchen, the home’s dining room and even within residents’ rooms, the court heard.

Food storage containers, food preparation areas, salt and pepper cellars and equipment drawers were all affected, said Ms Henderson, and there was evidence, in places, of where mice had gnawed skirting boards.]

Further checks behind fridges and freezers uncovered more evidence of droppings. The home was also criticised for its inadequate refuse arrangements, which it was claimed would have only encouraged problems with mice.

Ms Henderson told the court: “A large amount of droppings were found in a number of places and should have been reported by staff.”

The court heard the home had been repeatedly warned by the environmental health department over hygiene standards.

Food hygiene officers had given the home a zero-star rating on two occasions recently, meaning that urgent improvements were required.

Another occasion had seen the home awarded one star, still indicating serious concerns. One visit alone had seen Acorn rated as four stars, indicating provisions were ‘good’.

A voluntary prohibition order was placed on the kitchen and dining room, following the May inspection, and food had to be brought in for residents from another care home. This restriction was lifted two days later after pest control experts had thoroughly disinfected the two sites.

Ms Henderson said staff involved in food preparation were not properly qualified.

She added: “This is a serious case involving a home catering for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”

David Poger, for Acorn, said: “The home is very remorseful for the situation it has found itself in and has taken action to put things right.”

He told the court that management had drafted in Caresolve, an industry consultancy, to overhaul the running of the home, including completely reorganising staff training and introducing a much more comprehensive pest control regime.

Mr Poger added that though the company fully accepted its responsibilities, no actual harm had been caused to any of the residents as a result of the infestation.

Speaking after the case Ben Challinor, of Caresolve, said: “Issues raised in this case date back to a time prior to our engagement. However we are now confident any failings have been fully addressed, with safeguards implemented to ensure they do not re-arise in future. We would welcome a re-inspection.”