Thursday, 31 January 2019

CQC Publishes Advice on Managing the Risk of Hypothermia in Care Settings

Hypothermia can develop in vulnerable people after a relatively short exposure to cold weather. It can even develop after a small drop in room temperature.

Many people who use health and social care services may be at risk of developing hypothermia. They include:
  • older people in care homes and receiving care at home
  • people with reduced mental capacity, reduced mobility, or a sensory impairment
  • people who cannot communicate that they are exposed to cold
The risks to people are serious.  In one incident a 91-year-old woman died of severe hypothermia in a care home. She had not been given any hot food or drink as she spent her last day asleep in her room. Her body temperature was so cold it would not have registered on a standard thermometer.

The provider was found to have failed in their duty of care, was guilty of systemic failures and was fined £1.6 million. The judge said this was “an accident waiting to happen”.

This incident demonstrates how important it is for providers to have contingency plans to keep their residents warm – particularly over the winter months.

People receiving care at home may be at greater risk. NICE have produced a Quality standard for Preventing excess winter deaths and illnesses associated with cold homes. This includes priority areas for home-care staff to:
  • ask vulnerable people, at least once a year, whether they have difficulty keeping warm at home
  • consider room temperature when they are making home visits
  • ensure good communication between agencies to identify and address any needs and to avoid duplication.
The NHS has also published useful information about hypothermia. Age UK’s Keep well in winter guidance includes what to do in cold weather to keep warm.

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