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Elderly man suffers after council splits him from his wife

Ombudsman says council "made inadequate efforts to help the man see his wife".

An elderly couple of 59 years were split up with little regard for their welfare by Royal Borough of Windsor and 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 became very low, did not eat or drink properly and lost weight. He stopped going out and instead spent a lot of time in his bed.

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

A report by the Ombudsman found the council 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 look into whether the couple could continue living at home with the help of live-in carers. Being separated caused the man significant undue distress and contributed to his worsening condition.

The council 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 report found 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 at all. This is not in line with the Care Act and meant he was at an avoidable increased risk of harm.

The Ombudsman also found the quality of care provided to the man was poor 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.  He was left in his chair fully clothed.

The care worker had only stayed for 10 minutes instead of the scheduled 30 minutes and did not help him to the toilet.

All the lights were left on and the man’s walking stick was placed too far away for the man to reach from his chair.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, Michael King, said: “This case is a prime example of the council losing sight of the real people behind its busy caseload.

“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.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services.

In this case the council should apologise to the couple’s son and daughter, and pay them £750 each to recognise the distress it caused in failing to properly consider the risks of separating their parents.

It should also pay the son a further £500 for the time, trouble and distress of bringing the complaint.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council should review any cases where couples are separated by their care needs to ensure the risks and human rights were fully considered for both parties and that adequate contact is included on the care and support plans.

It should also amend its assessment practice to ensure it complies with the Care Act. The council should also put in place measures to improve its complaints handling and review its commissioning practice when services are rated as ‘Requires Improvement’ to ensure it considers any increased risk to people.

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