Details of the deaths of 21 or more residents of Aspen Court Care Home have begun to emerge after the daughters of two victims attended Tower Hamlets cabinet on Wednesday, 29th July.

Many of the Aspen Court residents were believed to be very vulnerable in normal circumstances, let alone during a pandemic. This may be one reason for the excessive death toll.

Kim Nottage gave harrowing details of the treatment of her mum Maureen that eventually led to her death on 7th April at the care home in Dod Street, Poplar. Also attending the virtual meeting was Amanda Henry whose dad 78-year-old Robert Henry died at Aspen Court on 8th April.

“Appalling care”

Speaking to cabinet from a prepared statement Kim said ”As a family we need to make you aware of the appalling care provided by the home to our mum”

She also said that ”HC-One [care provider] were diabolical” and that there seemed to be reluctance on part of different organisations, including HC-One, to provide her family with information in a timely manner.

Photograph of exterior of Aspen Court Care Home, Dodd Street, Poplar

Aspen Court Care Home, Dod Street, Poplar

HC-One response to comments by Kim Nottage

“Our thoughts and sympathies are with Mr Henry and Mrs Nottage’s families following their passing and we are deeply saddened by and truly sorry for their loss.

“The issues raised about Mrs Nottage’s care have been thoroughly investigated by HC-One and we provided a fulsome response and explanation to the family. This included an apology for the shortcomings in the immediate response to her fall in December 2019. These shortcomings were rectified at the time, as were wider requests from the family, where these were practically possible, particularly once coronavirus restrictions came into effect. However, we are deeply sorry for the shortcomings that had originally caused concern.

“We are confident we engaged appropriately and thoroughly with the Nottage family who have spoken at length with senior members of our Area Management Team. Records held by the home show that her day to day care and medication, including antibiotics, were delivered appropriately and as prescribed.

“The issues raised by the Henry family have not been raised directly with HC-One. Following the Council hearing this week we are now reviewing the statements made by the family and the care we delivered, and we will be responding to the Henry family directly in due course.

“Both Mrs Nottage and Mr Henry were popular and much-loved members of the home and they are deeply missed by everyone at Aspen Court. Our deepest sympathies continue to be with their families at this very difficult time.”

On PPE specifically:

“Keeping our Residents and Colleagues safe has been our absolute priority throughout the coronavirus outbreak, and a key part of this has been making sure our homes have the PPE they need. Our dedicated Procurement Team has achieved this, with millions of items of PPE being distributed each week. PPE stock levels are checked daily by the regional management team and these records show Aspen Court has always had all required PPE available on any given day.

“PPE guidance has changed 25 times throughout the pandemic, including from when, earlier in the pandemic, it was only required to be worn when carrying out personal care and not at all times.

“Throughout the outbreak we also carefully monitored the correct use of PPE, with regular video calls and ‘video walk arounds’ conducted by our regional management team to make sure Colleagues in our homes were using PPE correctly so that they keep each other and our Residents safe. All homes have been issued the latest Government guidance on every occasion, and we created a suite of compulsory training modules for Colleagues to support them to understand and implement the latest advice on PPE use.”

Time line

On 3rd July the East London Advertiser published this story ‘East London care home declares 21 coronavirus deaths’ which stated that from the end of March to early May there were 33 deaths, with 21 of these being recorded as coronavirus related.

However it was only on 22 June that the large number of deaths became apparent during a webcast of Tower Hamlets Council’s Overview & Scrutiny Committee. A eagle-eyed resident spotted some serious stuff on the webcast and told Moley who had a closer look.

What first caught Mole’s eye was the testimony of Sister Christine Frost OBE that neither Neighbours in Poplar or, as far as she was aware, any other voluntary group had been given any financial assistance to help feed those in need.

And that Neighbours in Poplar had met residents who had not had a hot meal for eight weeks during the pandemic. Eight weeks.

On 23rd June EEE published this story which focussed on this.

It was only after this that Mole watched the rest of the webcast and found another horror – Aspen Court. Trouble is Aspen Court was not mentioned.

At 1h 26m of the webcast Dr Naureen Bhatti, a GP at Gough Walk Surgery talks about a local care home which normally has 75 residents but now only has 35.

Dr Bhatti has special responsibility for care homes as part of her role with the Tower Hamlets Local Medical Committee (LMC) which is the independent voice of GPs in London. It represents over 7,000 GPs and 1,200 practices.

Dr Bhatti goes on to say that the other 40 residents passed away during the pandemic, meaning that over half have died of the residents of Aspen Court had died.

This does not mean that all those people died of Covid–19. But 40 residents dying in a care home was news to us and probably news to everyone else.

Working out which was the care home in question was not rocket science, a simple check of all the care homes in Tower Hamlets did the job with Aspen Court first on the list with ’75 beds, offering residential dementia, nursing and nursing dementia care.’

CQC Inspections

Aspen Court is run by HC-One Limited, ‘The Kind Care Company’ which manages approximately 300 care homes across the UK.

At the last Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection in November 2019 Aspen Court was given an overall rating of ‘Requires Improvement’ and two breaches of regulations were identified.

The CQC report on this inspection was published on 21 April 2020, just after the multiple deaths,

Three extracts from the report are below, the full report can be downloaded here.

“Although we saw some improvements had been made since the previous inspection, the provider had failed to notify us about all the incidents that had occurred across the service.”

“The last rating for this service was Requires Improvement (published 17 December 2018) and there were two breaches of regulations. The provider completed an action plan after the last inspection to show what they would do and by when to improve. At this inspection we found enough improvement had not been made and the provider was still in breach of regulations.”

“A third person suffered a fall in April 2019 that resulted in a fracture [it is not known if this was Maureen Nottage] and we saw there were gaps within their falls risk assessment and the monthly assessment in May 2019 stated they were at low risk of falls and there was no information about the fall in their mobility care plan.

The provider failed to ensure that risks to the health and safety of people were regularly assessed and did not do all that was practicable to mitigate any such risks. This placed people at risk of harm. This was a breach of regulation 12 (Safe Care and Treatment) of the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014.”

Next up was a barrage of emails to all those who either managed Aspen Court or who had responsibility for it.

The replies – when they eventually came – were not models of clarity.

Initial email from HC-One

“Our thoughts and sympathies are with all families who have lost a loved one from coronavirus and we are doing our utmost to support them during this difficult time.

“Caring for our Residents and supporting our Colleagues is at the heart of what we do, and we are doing everything we can to make sure our Residents and Colleagues stay safe and well throughout these challenging times.

“Since the start of the pandemic in March we have had a comprehensive coronavirus contingency plan in place, which was created by our Clinical Director and repeatedly updated to reflect the latest government guidance. We have secured the medical equipment, PPE, and supplies we need to protect Residents and Colleagues alike. Colleagues have access to a range of specific coronavirus training modules, including on the correct use of PPE. These training modules have been regularly updated to reflect all changes in the guidance over recent months. We are also working closely with our local health and care partners.

“We know from recent testing in our homes that around 20% of those testing positive have no identifiable symptoms; elsewhere in the sector, it’s more than 40%. This clearly underlines the importance and value of a widespread, regular testing programme being in place. Sadly, this was not in place when an outbreak was identified at Aspen Court, with only four tests being completed. If everyone living and working in a care home was regularly tested from the beginning of the UK’s pandemic then the situation could have been quite different.

“We are proud of our Colleagues and how they have risen to the challenge of the coronavirus outbreak by showing huge dedication and commitment to our Residents. We are providing round-the-clock support for all our teams and we are also grateful to Relatives for their ongoing support and understanding.”

Initial email from London Medical Council.

“From the end of March, until early May, Aspen Court has had 33 deaths of residents, of which 21 were thought to be Covid–19 related. This included deaths of residents in hospital. Aspen Court has a particularly high proportion of elderly residents, many of which were palliative, making them especially vulnerable to Covid–19. During this period there was very little community testing for suspected Covid–19 cases, making it difficult to provide an exact figure.”

Dr Osman Ali, GP, Gough Walk Surgery (and the practice’s lead GP for Aspen Court)

“Since the start of coronavirus it has been difficult to attribute deaths directly to the virus, or as being cause in part by disruptions to NHS services resulting from the pandemic, with complete certainty. The stark reality is that more testing was, and is, needed within the community to track and manage the historic, current, and future spread of this disease.”

Dr Naureen Bhatti, GP, Gough Walk Surgery

LBTH FOI response

EEE also fired off a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to LBTH on 2nd July as LBTH did not seem to have much, if any, knowledge of the situation at Aspen Court.

The FoI response is below.

FOI 23129141 Aspen Court Care Home deaths

Investigations into Aspen Court have just begun

It is remarkably difficult to obtain accurate, reliable data into who died from Covid–19 and when. EEE has spent a significant amount of time analysing numerous datasets from different official sources but has never felt happy with the results so have not published them.

In addition the government’s ‘inconsistent and at times negligent’ response to the pandemic has cost many lives, with the elderly often paying the price.

Almost 20,000 care home residents died with confirmed or suspected coronavirus between March 2 and June 12, according to official figures.

Photo of Dod Street street sign

Dod Street

EEE Comment

We have all been bombarded with so many numbers during the pandemic that it is easy to forget that every number is a tragedy for a family.

If you lost your mother or father at Aspen Court or any other care home in Tower Hamlets please get in touch with us and tell us your experiences.

This is not a blame game, the public has the right to know what happened at Aspen Court.

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