14 May 2024

‘Not usual’ for four babies to be fed by one person at same time, inquest told

14 May 2024

A nursery worker was feeding pasta Bolognese to four children at once when one of them choked before dying in hospital six days later, an inquest has heard.

The tragedy occurred just four weeks after nine-month-old Oliver Steeper had started attending the Jelly Beans Day Nursery in Ashford, Kent, in September 2021.

Giving evidence at his inquest, nursery worker Loetta Collins said it was “not really” usual for four babies to be fed by one person at the same time.

The qualified child carer was not feeding Oliver when he started to choke, but had “finely chopped” his food, and was the “key person” responsible for his care, the jury inquest at Oakwood House in Maidstone heard.

The 31-year-old started working at the nursery around the same time Oliver joined.

The baby boy had been eating pureed meals at home, and his parents believed he was “nowhere near being able to chew” properly, the inquest previously heard.

During his two half-days a week at the nursery, Oliver was looked after in the “Panda Room” for babies aged three months to two years old, jurors were told.

The nursery’s staff to baby ratio was one member of staff to every three children, the inquest heard, and lunch would normally be served at 11am.

Mrs Collins told the inquest she and Oliver’s mother Zoe Steeper had discussed how her son’s food should be prepared before he joined.

“I asked her: ‘How would you like it?’

“She said: ‘Finely chopped,'” the inquest heard.

Food prepared by chefs would normally be chopped up by nursery staff to suit the needs of each baby, the inquest heard.

Oliver’s parents had “assumed” his food would be blended by staff, his mother previously told the inquest.

But asked if the plan had ever been to puree Oliver’s food, Mrs Collins replied: “No.”

On the day Oliver choked on his penne pasta and Bolognese, Mrs Collins had chopped up the food before another staff member fed it to him.

Mrs Collins said: “Lunch was running late because of how busy we were.

“I spent a lot of time cutting his food and mixing it until I was satisfied.

“I do worry about things like that.”

Asked if it was common practice for staff to feed four children at once, she replied: “Not really.”

The nursery worker said she first realised something was wrong with Oliver when he “made a sound as if he was going to cry, but didn’t start crying”.

Mrs Collins, who is trained in first aid, immediately realised Oliver was choking and tried to administer back slaps to clear his airway, she told jurors.

The nursery manager arrived to help, before emergency call handlers advised them to start CPR, the inquest heard.

Fellow nursery worker Hagia Harris told the inquest she “was told” that Oliver’s food was supposed to be pureed.

Mrs Harris was feeding other children in the Panda Room when Oliver began to choke, jurors heard.

Asked if it was a concern to see the baby being fed chopped up solid foods, she said: “It was, but I never talked about it much because I was not Oliver’s key worker”.

Mrs Harris told the inquest Oliver had started “turning blue” as staff tried to help him breathe.

Baby Oliver was rushed to hospital, but brain scans revealed he was not going to survive, and he died six days later.

The Jelly Beans Day Nursery has since closed, according to Ofsted.

The inquest is expected to last for two weeks.

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