THE BODY of a Southampton man lay undiscovered in his small flat for almost a week – despite carers searching it three days after his death.
Those charged with visiting and caring for Sean Cruise failed to spot his dead body lying on the floor by a radiator, even though they went in and opened the curtains directly above him.
Instead, his apparent disappearance sparked a major missing persons' inquiry with Hampshire police who spent three days searching for him – but didn’t bother looking in his home.
It was six days after he died that the 52-year-old was eventually discovered when officers finally gained entry to his home and found him dead on the floor.
At an inquest into Mr Cruise’s death, Hampshire coroner Gordon Denson slammed health bosses and described a “considerable breakdown” in the care he was given before he died.
His brother Seamus also told the hearing: “Someone needs to be held accountable so that it doesn't happen someone else. That is all we can ask for.”
He also questioned how nobody spotted him on the floor, adding: “Whoever drew the curtains would have tripped over the body.”
The court heard how he was living alone in an apartment in Atherley Road, Shirley, in a house where others also lived.
There he was visited regularly by NHS Southern Health’s community health team and representatives of the Society of St James, a registered charity that helps the homeless in Southampton.
The inquest was told how alarms bells rang when Mr Cruise, who suffered from schizophrenia, failed to attend a doctor’s appointment in December last year.
Before his death, he had refused to allow care workers into his home for several weeks, making it difficult for his care team to determine how ill he was, despite him living in “squalor”.
But Southern Health and the Society of St James insisted he was receiving regular treatment from his GP and was visited by a care coordinator and support worker.
Sue Grantham, care coordinator with NHS Southern Health’s community health team, told the inquest that she searched his flat, knowing he had not been seen for three days. She had been accompanied by a care worker for the Society of St James, and a representative from property landlords Stonham when they entered the flat on December 27.
She told the hearing: “I find it very difficult to think that I was walking around the room and didn’t see him.
“I genuinely didn’t see him. That has been a mystery to me throughout the whole thing to think that he could have been in there and I didn’t see him.”
Police were called and a missing persons’ investigation was launched, the court was told.
But it was another three days before Mr Cruise was finally found, lying in a pool of vomit, when police searched the flat themselves.
Consultant pathologist Jeffrey Theaker told the court that a post mortem found Mr Cruise had died from a heart attack.
Determining a verdict of death by natural causes deputy coroner Gordon Denson said: “I consider that there was a considerable breakdown in the level of care that Sean should have been expected to receive during the latter part of his life.
He added that he hoped that a report compiled by Southern Health admitting failings in this instance will be “fully implemented so that the failings in his case will not occur again to individuals in the care of Southern Health”.
Panel CARE bosses today insisted lessons had been learned as a result of Mr Cruise’s death.
A spokesman from Southern Health NHS said: “As Sean became more unwell, it became more difficult to support him and our staff struggled to gain access to his flat.
“We have investigated the way we were supporting Sean and, although we were providing regular care, a more assertive approach may have improved the level of contact we were able to achieve.”
A spokesman from Society of St James said Sean was living in a scheme allowing him independence and that it remained “proud” of its work in the community.
They said: “The scheme is not designed to provide daily monitoring of clients, as this reduces independence and prevents people developing independent life skills.
“The society ensured that Mr Cruise was visited several times a week, having regular contact with staff.”
Hampshire Police, who were quizzed by the coroner about why they failed to carry out an immediate search of Mr Cruise’s home when he was reported missing, could not provide any comment.