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Ombudsman slams council over treatment of elderly couple who were split up after 59 years

An elderly couple of 59 years were split up with little regard for their welfare by the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

The couple were separated when the wife was discharged to a care home after leaving hospital.

The husband was left to live in the family home with the help of care workers, but quickly deteriorated. He did not eat or drink properly and lost weight. He stopped going out and instead spent a lot of time in his bed, the Ombudsman's report found.

When the family complained a few days later, the council agreed to take more steps to help the man visit his wife, but he died just a few weeks after.

The Ombudsman claimed Windsor & Maidenhead did not do enough to consider the man's situation when his wife left hospital, despite his family telling it he would suffer at home.

It did not properly investigate whether the couple could continue living at home with the help of live-in carers, the Ombudsman added. Being separated caused the man significant undue distress and contributed to his worsening condition. The council was also found to have made inadequate efforts to help the man see his wife. Additionally, the wife's move to the care home was made permanent without any formal 'best interests' decision being made.

The Ombudsman added that the council took too long to assess the man's needs initially. Later, when his needs had changed following a hospital admission, there was no evidence it had completed an up to date assessment of his needs. "This is not in line with the Care Act and meant he was at an avoidable increased risk of harm."

The LGO said the quality of care provided to the man was lacking from the first company employed by the council, and he was left without the care he needed by the second company.

On one occasion, after he was discharged from hospital, the man was found by his family in urine-soaked clothes after the care worker had turned up too early and the man had not wanted to be helped to bed at the time. The care worker had only stayed for 10 minutes instead of the scheduled 30 minutes and did not help him to the toilet, the LGO's report found.

The Ombudsman has recommended that the Royal Borough should:

  • review any cases where couples are separated because of their care needs. In these cases, it needs to ensure the risks and human rights were fully considered for both parties and that adequate contact is included in the care and support plans;
  • amend its assessment practice to ensure it complies with the Care Act;
  • put in place measures to improve its complaints handling;
  • review its commissioning practice when services are rated as 'Requires Improvement' to ensure it considers any increased risk to people;
  • apologise to the couple's son and daughter;
  • pay them £750 each to recognise the distress it caused in failing to consider the risks of separating their parents properly;
  • pay an additional £500 to the son for the "time, trouble and distress of bringing the complaint".

The council will discuss the report and the actions implemented by Optalis, the adult social care services used by Windsor & Maidenhead, at its Adults, Children and Health Overview and Scrutiny Panel on 30 September 2020.

Ahead of the panel discussion, Hilary Hall, Director of Adult Services at the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, publicly apologised to the family.

Hall said: "I offer my sincere apologies to the family of Mr and Mrs Y for the distress caused by the failures outlined in the report.

"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 couple can remain together as far as possible which is very important."

She added: "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.

"My thoughts are with the family of Mr and Mrs Y and I am grateful for their tenacity in bring these issues to everyone's attention. Whilst this didn't help Mr and Mrs Y it will help couples in the future."

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Michael King said the case was "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."

He added: "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."

Adam Carey

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