A jury at the inquest into the death of a 41-year-old London man at HMP Thameside found his death was contributed to by neglect after CCTV footage showed healthcare staff had not checked he was alive and breathing at the times they had claimed and had falsified prison records to show otherwise.
Darren McConnell from Peckham was found dead on the floor of his cell on 4 December 2014 having received an excessive dose of methadone from HMP Thameside healthcare staff. The inquest heard how staff failed to carry out half-hourly welfare checks on Mr McConnell as instructed and falsified records to show they had done so.
The prison’s healthcare unit, run by Care UK, was found by the jury to be insufficiently staffed with poor record-keeping, communication and supervision as well as an overall quality of care that fell well below acceptable practise.
Mr McConnell was beginning at 10-week sentence at HMP Thameside where he was admitted to the healthcare unit due to his history of drug treatment in the community and a low pulse. The healthcare unit’s GP prescribed methadone and stipulated staff must make half-hourly pulse and blood pressure checks over and above the half-hourly observations of all patients to make sure they were alive and well.
Prison medical records appeared to show Mr McConnell received a 65ml rather than a 55ml dose of methadone on the day he died, although the exact amount is unclear due to the relevant record book going missing. Vital signs observations occurred just twice after the GP requested them, and even those were not as frequently as requested, and then were stopped by a healthcare assistant without checking with a GP. Two healthcare assistants on duty signed to say they had undertaken basic welfare checks on the deceased but CCTV showed that these never actually happened. Evidence heard at the inquest suggested it was likely that Mr McConnell had been dead for a number of hours when he was found, and was therefore already deceased, lying with his face and chest under his bed, when later checks did take place, yet the alarm was not raised.
The inquest heard expert medical evidence that suggested that the deceased’s death was most likely caused by a methadone overdose and that if he had been observed as requested by the GP, signs of the overdose would have been picked up. Mr McConnell could then have been easily treated with the drug Naloxone which was available in the healthcare emergency bags in the prison and he would have survived.
“Without the availability of CCTV footage, the extent of the lack of care given to Mr McConnell would never have come to light. It is shocking that despite the orders of the GP, a healthcare assistant took a decision to stop vital signs observations and he and a colleague did not even undertake the 30 minute basic observations required for all patients on the inpatient unit. These individuals also went further and fraudulently recorded that these observations had taken place and that Darren was well in his cell.
“For Mr McConnell’s family, it adds insult to injury that staff who accept they fraudulently recorded observations never received disciplinary action and are still working looking after patients in different prisons. Furthermore, evidence was heard at the inquest that Care UK is unable to routinely audit whether observations were taking place because other prisons they operate in do not have CCTV. Whilst Care UK no longer operates in HMP Thameside, the company does provide healthcare in a number of prisons including HMP Brixton, HMP Pentonville and HMP Wormwood Scrubs, raising questions about the safety of patients in their care.”
Mr McConnell’s sister, Joanne McConnell says: “Darren had an incredibly tough upbringing and was neglected from the day he was born. He was let down by the system throughout his life and suffered because of our abusive father. Darren had tried to make something of his life and had been drug-free for ten years until he once again succumbed to his addiction following the death of our mother.
“The outcome of the inquest was very hard to hear and has left me with the knowledge that my brother would still be here today if the prison’s healthcare staff had simply done their jobs properly. Once again my brother was let down by those who ought to have kept him safe. I can only hope that having identified these failings, Care UK looks at its operations and finds a way to ensure their patients receive at least the basic levels of care expected of them.”
The inquest was heard by Assistant Coroner, Miss S Ormond-Walshe, and took place at Southwark Coroner’s Court from 17 – 31 March 2016.
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Notes for Editors
The Civil Liberties team at Hodge Jones & Allen is one of the UK’s foremost teams in bringing actions against the police and state authorities for deaths in custody. The firm’s solicitors work closely with INQUEST, which works for truth, justice and accountability for families, and campaigns for policy change at the highest level.
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