A WELLING woman was discovered dead with pillows covering her head and face days after going into a Sidcup nursing home, an inquest heard.

Alzheimer’s and osteoporosis sufferer Irene Schoepff, 82, from Welling, was found early on March 5 2012 with one pillow on her face and another on top of her head.

Her family say they "cannot believe how this incident happened" and are now pursuing legal action.

Husband Harro usually cared for Mrs Schoepff, at their home in Buckingham Avenue, Welling, but she occasionally visited the Bupa-owned Sidcup Nursing and Residential Centre in Hatherley Road to give him respite.

The care home staff told South London Coroners' Court on Tuesday (JAN 28) they do not know how the pillows ended up in that position.

PC Arif Cuneyt, who attended the scene, said: "I was suspicious when I saw the position of the pillows.

“There was a pillow on her head and when I removed that, another on her face.

"A healthcare assistant, Emily York, one of those who had found Mrs Schoepff, asked if she could speak to me alone.

"She said she had been told by her manager that she did not have to say much to the police as it was not a suspicious death.  That made me suspicious."

A police investigation later deemed the death was not suspicious.

The Health and Safety Executive also looked into the incident and the Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspected the home several times that year.

Helen Love, who managed the home at the time, told the court: "At the time there was nothing to say how she should be placed in bed. Things were changed immediately after.

"I also want to say that conversation which Emily described did not happen.

"I told all my staff to be open and honest with the police."

News Shopper: The home in Hatherley Road where Mrs Schoepff was discovered with pillows covering her face and head

Representing the family, barrister David Thomson said: "The CQC report on the home, published four months later, still said, ‘Some care and treatment plans were not in place or were overdue for review, which put people at risk of receiving inappropriate or unsafe care or treatment’."

Dr Ashley Fegan-Earl gave cause of death as consistent with suffocation caused by blocking of the nose and mouth due to advanced osteoporosis, Alzheimer's and frailty due to old age.

Coroner Dr Roy Palmer told husband Harro Schoepff who attended the inquest with his daughter: "I am so sorry you lost your wife in such sad circumstances.

"You looked after her devotedly for a long time and I am so sorry that when you wanted a break that it went wrong."

Dr Palmer instructed Bupa to provide Mrs Schoepff's family with written confirmation of changes made within 14 days of the inquest.

He recorded a narrative verdict, saying: "Irene Schoepff suffered from dementia and was wholly dependent on others for all aspects of her daily living.

"She had flexion contractures of her limbs making it necessary for two care assistants to turn her in bed. She was incapable of moving herself.

"Her death was probably the consequence of suffocation.

“There has been no satisfactory explanation for the position in which she was found.

“The precise circumstances of the position of Irene Schoepff when found and the cause of her death remain unexplained.”

'She is so missed'

Mrs Schoepff's family told News Shopper after the inquest: “We cannot believe how this incident happened.

“We had cared for Irene for 13 years with support from carers.

“At home Irene always slept on her back and would remain in this position until the morning - she could not move herself.

"We were told that she was sleeping normally when checked approximately one hour prior to being found.

"It has now come to light that there was no individualised night care plan or documents to show how she should be positioned - essential for appropriate care.

"No one has taken responsibility for the position she ended up in yet every witness agreed that she simply could not have done it herself. 

“It does not make sense.  She was a wonderful wife and mother and we entrusted Bupa with her care - she is so missed.” 

They are now pursuing legal action.

The family’s solicitor, Elizabeth O’Mahony, of Powell & Company, told News Shopper: ““From the evidence we heard at the inquest, I will be advising the family to pursue this matter further through a legal route.”

'A tragic accident' according to staff

After the inquest, a spokesman for the Sidcup Nursing and Residential Centre told News Shopper: "We were all very upset by Mrs Schoepff’s death in 2012.

"As the Coroner noted, it was a tragic accident and she had been checked just an hour before."

“We would like to again send our condolences to her family.”