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Fault found in council's care of elderly couple

Ombudsman finds fault in council's handling of care for couple married 59 years

An elderly couple of 59 years were split up by the council with little regard paid to their ‘dignity or basic human rights’, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) has found.

The findings of the LGO investigation into the complaint against the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead was published in a report on August 25.

It concerns a couple, not named by the LGO, who were separated when the wife was discharged from hospital into a care home in March 2018.

This was despite the family of the couple telling the council the husband would suffer at home without her.

Despite having said it would, the report states the council ‘did not give due consideration either to a live-in care arrangement, or a placement’ together.

It was the couple’s son who brought the complaint against the council.

The report says, ‘the whole process has been distressing for him and his family’ and that his father was ‘devastated’ at being separated from his wife.

The report states that professionals did not dispute the husband’s ‘health and wellbeing was being badly affected by the separation’ and caused ‘undue distress and risk of harm’.

It reads “On the balance of probabilities, it also caused him actual harm as all accepted this contributed to his worsening condition.”

The report also says that although the wife ‘seemed to settle well in the care home, we cannot know whether she would have been better had she stayed’ with her husband.

The son of the couple also complained about the quality of care the council provided to his parents and says it did not deal adequately with his concerns and complaints.

On one occasion the son visited his father to find him in urine-soaked clothes.

The ombudsman also found the quality of care provided to the husband was poor from two companies employed by the council, Bespoke and Carewatch.

In May 2018, the husband collapsed and died in his home with a care worker present.

The report says that one week before he died, the council agreed to arrange support for him to visit his wife, which caused ‘significant and undue stress, frustration and outrage’ to the couple's son and daughter.

The wife has also now died.

The finding of the LGO report states that fault was found causing injustice.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King, said this is ‘a prime example of the council losing sight of the real people behind their busy caseloads’.

“It appears there was little regard paid to the couple’s dignity or basic human rights, with terrible consequences for the family.

“First and foremost, people must be treated with the respect and care they deserve, no matter the pressures councils are working under.

“While I know nothing can make up for the poor care the man received in the last months of his life, I hope the changes the council will make to improve services will ensure this sort of thing should not happen to other families in the borough.”

To remedy the injustice identified in the report the LGO’s recommendations to the council include paying the couple's son and daughter £750 each in recognition of the distress it caused.

It also says the council should review any cases where couples are separated by their care needs.

Hilary Hall, director of adult services at the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, said she offers her sincere apologies to the family of the couple, ‘for the distress caused by the failures outlined in the report’.

She said: “With Optalis, we work hard to promote the safety and wellbeing of everyone that we work with.  I know that we failed on this occasion and whilst we have revised our practices and processes, I regret it will not change what happened which was unacceptable.

“The revisions to our processes and procedures are designed to ensure this does not happen again, with a particular emphasis on ensuring that families and couples can remain together as far as possible, which is very important.

“We have improved the way in which we respond to complaints, as well as the way in which work with our partner organisations, to ensure that they are delivering the quality of care and support to our residents that we expect.” 

Copies of the report will be available for public inspection during normal office hours on request by emailing communications@optalis.org for three weeks starting on Monday, September 7.

The report and the actions implemented by Optalis and the Royal Borough will be considered by the Adults, Children and Health Overview and Scrutiny Panel on September 30.

The findings of that scrutiny and any recommendations will then be considered by council cabinet.

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