Man dies of self-inflicted burns in nursing home

An elderly man died from burns he received  in a nursing home tragedy in Bray, Co Wicklow after he allegedly went for a cigarette in the toilet.

Mr Oliver Cronin (69) was a resident at Shannagh Bay Nursing Home on Strand Road in Bray which overlooks the seafront.

Staff became aware of the incident when they noticed smoke coming from underneath the toilet door. They used staff pass keys to open the door and found Mr Cronin whose ‘clothing was on fire in a serious way’ according to staff.

At this stage an evacuation of the residents was initiated, but by the time the fire brigade arrived the fire was under control and the fire brigade advised that there was no reason to evacuate any of the remaining elderly residents.

Mr Cronin was brought by ambulance to St Vincent’s Hospital and later transferred to the burns unit at St James’s Hospital where he died on Sunday night. He was buried in Virginia, Co Cavan last Thursday.

The circumstances surrounding the death were investigated by the Health and Safety Information Authority (HIQA) on Monday, March 3 and a report on the matter will be issued as soon as it is compiled.

What is known is that Mr Cronin – who had been a resident of the home since April, 2010, had requested a cigarette and a lighter from a nurse and had gone to the designated smoking room in the home. This is the general procedure in nursing homes where residents are not allowed to have their own cigarettes, matches or lighters.

He then went to the toilet and it is not known if he tried to smoke in the toilet or whether his clothes were smouldering before he got there. By the time staff opened the door of the toilet, Mr Cronin’s clothes were on fire.

Staff at the home confirmed that the toilet suffered little fire damage and was open again later that evening. No other residents were hurt during the incident and while four staff members were sent to hospital for examinations as a precaution, they were all discharged the same day.

An administrator at the home, Mr Michael O’Brien, said that the staff and residents were upset and ‘distraught’ about the incident.

The director of nursing at the home, Anne Blunt, said that they had no idea how the fire started but were surmising that Mr Cronin had tried to smoke a cigarette in the toilet and had somehow set fire to himself.

The Health, Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) had conducted a report on the home in November 2013 and in the area of Health and Safety and Risk Management found that the home was in ‘moderate’ non-compliance. The HIQA inspectors noted that fire equipment was serviced regularly and fire exits were checked daily.

It also found that some of the issues which were of concern on their previous visits had been addressed – including a call bell in the conservatory should a resident be in need of emergency help, but also noted that some outstanding risk issues hadn’t been addressed and wouldn’t be until a new extension was built.

HIQA have issued guidelines on smoking in nursing homes to prevent accidents in response to two previous incidents in other nursing homes where the clothes of residents were set on fire by cigarettes. In both cases, the residents were admitted to hospital and both subsequently died.

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