Home firm fined £100,000 after pensioner died when clothes caught fire after she tried to light cigarette

A pensioner died after accidentally setting her soothing – but flammable – skin cream on fire at a care home.

Rosina McDonald was heard crying out for help when her clothes and hair caught fire at the Wood House care home in Tooting in 2015.

Now the firm which run the home have been fined a record £90,000 and £15,000 costs for failing to properly look out for the fire risks in her room.

Southwark crown court heard the 78-year-old had been left alone with a cigarette lighter, flouting fire safety rules.

Wood House is one of 21 homes around the country run by Gold Care Consultancy Ltd, which admitted three fire safety breaches. The care home was closed shortly after the fire.

Another woman, 84, had been hurt at a fire at one of the firm’s care homes in Penge in 2013.

Mrs McDonald suffered a stroke in 2012 and had severe cognitive impairment as a result. Health professionals also highlighted she was at risk of being disorientated. Following the blaze, fire inspectors found two cigarette lighters in her room at the care home which had been modified to burn brighter – and their flame may not have gone out when the button was released.

The elderly resident was also prescribed soothing cream – to be applied twice daily – and half the ingredients were flammable.

London Fire Brigade has issued a warning about using such cream, particularly for vulnerable people who smoke and have mobility issues. Its spokesman warned: “A small spark can quickly lead to a serious blaze if flammable emollients seep into dressings, clothing and bedding. This presents a real concern for people who are less able to escape if a fire takes hold.”

London Fire Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety, Dan Daly said: “The fire risk assessment did not adequately reflect the fact that Mrs McDonald was at serious risk in the event of a fire. She was a resident who smoked and had severe cognitive impairment.

“Not only did she have lighters but she also had flammable ointments applied to the skin. These were serious breaches of fire safety and measures to safeguard the wellbeing of this resident could have been put in place easily and quickly and at little cost.

“Carers need to look at the individual needs of the people they look after and incorporate fire risk into the care planning process.

“A fire risk assessment is essential. If this had been in place then this tragic case could have avoided.”

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