The new owner of a Highgate care home says "widespread Legionella” could force him to close Mary Feilding Guild before the end of May.

Mitesh Dhanak, the director of Highgate Care, claims the bacteria is rife throughout the building – and that it is awaiting “urgent advice” from the Care Quality Commission and Public Health England on whether the home is safe to remain open.

Sixteen pensioners aged between 85 and 104 were given less than three months to find a new home after being told by the new owner to pack their bags by the end of May.

The longstanding care home was sold by Mary Feilding Guild, a charitable trust, to Highgate Care, a private company, on March 4.

The move has sparked widespread anger, and drawn grave warnings over the impact to the health of elderly residents, during a pandemic.

Ham & High: Resident Dr Jean Scott, 88, outside Mary Feilding GuildResident Dr Jean Scott, 88, outside Mary Feilding Guild (Image: Polly Hancock)

In his first public statement addressing this criticism, Mr Dhanak told the Ham&High that a “number of significant issues have come to light that has led us to question why the home has remained open as long as it has”.

He said these issues include:

  • “Widespread Legionella throughout the building. The previous owner was unable to remove the source of the issue due to both the age of the building and its outdated Edwardian plumbing designs. We are currently awaiting urgent advice from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and Public Health England (PHE) to whether the home is safe to remain open.
  • “An unreliable central heating system, which currently uses eight boilers and is entirely unsuitable, not one working bath in the home, and an unfit drainage system across the site that regularly blocks.
  • “Environmental issues that we have swiftly addressed including the removal of a dead tree that posed a significant safety risk due to its proximity to a resident’s bedroom window and the removal of rats from the building.
  • “Two residents falling within the building (in 2014 and 2017) which resulted in major injuries for one and the death of the latter... These tragic accidents highlight, in our view, the previous lack of risk assessing at the home and the challenges presented by the current building for safely housing older residents.”

At the time of going to press, the Mary Feilding Guild charitable trust had not responded to requests for comment on Mr Dhanak's statement.

On concerns of Legionella, the CQC said it had directed Highgate Care to the local council's environmental health team, and Public Health England.

Amid the ongoing dispute over responsibility, residents say their lives have been “shattered”.

“Not all of us are fit to do this, and anyway until the pandemic is over, it is not safe for us to do,” Joy Winterbottom, 88, previously said.

Ham & High: Mary Feilding Guild resident: Joy Winterbottom, 88Mary Feilding Guild resident: Joy Winterbottom, 88 (Image: Polly Hancock)

Residents’ families, meanwhile, say they have been “crushed” by the “appalling” treatment of their loved ones.

Last week elderly care experts said they feared the shock of moving vulnerable and frail residents could have a “massive” impact on their health, and local MP Catherine West has taken the case to parliament.

Despite this criticism, Mr Dhanak said Highgate Care had provided support to residents, such as the option of a carer to aid their move; and allowing furniture from Mary Feilding Guild to be taken to pensioners' new homes.

He said three people had already moved out, with a further seven residents set to leave this month.

He added: “I would like to reiterate that the team at Highgate Care have more than 25 years’ experience in providing high-quality care for older and vulnerable people in the community, including award-winning accolades as care providers.

“Our intention remains to create a new home on the site, supporting the legacy of the Mary Feilding Guild and offering a high-quality care facility in Highgate.”

Ham & High: The Mary Feilding Guild home is now called Highgate HouseThe Mary Feilding Guild home is now called Highgate House (Image: Polly Hancock)

Public Health England confirmed it was aware of Legionella at Mary Feilding Guild, and that it was providing advice to the home.

Trustees of Mary Feilding Guild claim they didn't know of the new owner’s plans to close the home when it agreed to the sale.

“While we understand and fully share the strong feelings that residents and their families have about the sudden decision to close the home, we as trustees have been focusing on what we can do practically to help residents in their current plight,” a spokesperson previously said.

“We have now contacted all the residents affected. Two have so far been offered a package of financial assistance and we expect to be able to make similar offers to other residents in due course.”

Ham & High: Some residents have already moved outSome residents have already moved out (Image: Polly Hancock)