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Coroner Concludes Lack of English Proficiency in Carers to Blame for UK Grandmother’s Death

Jack Hadfield

An inquest has concluded that the death of a British grandmother in a care home was partly caused by the staff’s inability to speak proper English.

Barbara Rymell, 91, and a dementia sufferer, fell on the stairs in the care home in Somerset in November last year, and became trapped under the chair in the mechanically operated stairlift. Due to the way she had fallen, staff weren’t able to remove her from the machine, and Rymell was therefore left unable to breathe.

However, a report from senior coroner Samantha Marsh revealed that the two care staff on duty, one Indian and one Romanian, were not able to speak English well enough to communicate to 999 the severity of the incident.

Marsh noted that the carers couldn’t explain that Rymell was trapped under the chair, instead using the word “blocked” repeatedly, couldn’t understand the difference between “bleeding” and “breathing,” nor the difference between “alert” and alive,” all of which “made any meaningful triage of Barbara’s condition virtually impossible.”

It was later discovered that one of the care workers had not passed the Secure English Language Test, a requirement for their visa to work in the UK, meaning that they were working illegally.

“I am concerned that those working with vulnerable people who are in a position of trust and responsibility must be able to demonstrate a sufficient proficiency in English to enable to summon appropriate emergency medical attention when needed,” Marsh wrote.

“Vulnerable people, by very definition, are unable to often appreciate the need for help; take steps to keep themselves safe and/or summon help for themselves when they need it.”

In her report, Marsh concluded: “By being unable to speak the native language of England with any proficiency I am concerned that deaths will continue to arise where those who are young, disabled, suffering from a mental impairment or who are elderly and in need of urgent medical help will not have this summoned for them if those who are engaging with emergency professionals are unable to communicate effectively.”

Rymell’s daughter, Elaine Curtis, said it was “necessary” that those working in care positions had the ability to speak English effectively, and hoped that the British government would change the law to reflect that.

In a statement, South West Care Homes, which oversaw Rymell’s care, said that they sympathized with the family but insisted that the incident was isolated.

“We strive always to offer the best possible care to all our residents, and since Mrs. Rymell’s death, we have instigated a range of management and auditing improvements to further enhance the care we provide at Ashley House,” South West Care Homes said.

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