Local Government Ombudsman makes first joint finding against a council and care home operator
A complaint about the neglect of an elderly woman in a care home has led the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO)to issue its first joint investigation report into a care home and local authority.
In the first of its kind, the LGO is issuing a report covering the actions of both a private care provider and a council’s subsequent safeguarding investigation into that provider’s quality of care.
The investigation was prompted by a complaint from a man who said his wife was left severely dehydrated and suffering from oral thrush after a week-long respite stay at a care home. The woman, who had advanced dementia, required full assistance in all areas of daily living, and could not say when she was hungry or thirsty. She struggled to swallow and needed a thickening agent added to her drinks.
The woman’s husband privately arranged and funded the stay at the care home and spoke to the carers there about her special circumstances. When the husband returned to pick her up, he described her as ‘less responsive and limp’ and her mouth had a coating of white spots.
He contacted the care home’s GP and the woman was taken to hospital, with paramedics administering intravenous fluids through a drip. The woman stayed in hospital for three weeks; her records showing dehydration and problems with her kidneys. The woman died a week after being discharged from hospital.
During her stay in hospital, hospital staff made a safeguarding referral to the county council. The man also complained to the provider about his wife’s care.
The care home responded to the man’s complaint but found no shortfalls in its treatment of the woman. Meanwhile the council conducted its own investigation, but at no point involved the husband.
The LGO said the council did not conduct a strategy meeting, but asked for a report from the provider, and did not chase that report swiftly when the provider was slow to respond – potentially putting other vulnerable residents at risk.
The Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin, said the council’s report into the situation appeared to accept the provider’s version of events, but also recorded a finding of ‘neglect – partially substantiated’.
“The council did not recognise the inconsistency in the care provider’s records for the woman and an account given by the GP who saw her on the day she left the home,” said Dr Martin.
The council closed the initial assessment, taking no further action. It was not clear if it told the provider it had come to a finding of partial neglect, or told the regulator the Care Quality Commission and its own contract department about the findings.
The LGO’s investigation found the council did not act in accordance with the law and relevant government guidance, and that it did not adhere to Department of Health statutory guidance on safeguarding adults and failed to follow its own policy and procedure relating to safeguarding investigation.
The investigation upheld the man’s complaint against the care provider about the quality of care his wife received, and found issues with the way it completed records about the woman’s care. It also found fault in the way the provider dealt with the man’s subsequent complaint.
“While nothing can make up for the loss of a loved one, I hope my investigation will give this woman’s family some reassurance that lessons have been learnt and other vulnerable adults will not have the same experience,” said Dr Martin.
“Neither the care provider nor council’s investigations were up to the standard I expect, and failed to give the family proper answers as to what went wrong. Organisations can only learn from events like these if they conduct thorough and searching investigations.
“I welcome the significant steps the council has already taken to improve its policies, procedures and staff training in this area and am pleased it has agreed to my further recommendations. I now call on the care provider to reflect upon my report and implement the remedies I have recommended.”
The council has already apologised to the man and has also been asked to pay him £250 for the time and trouble he has been through in pursuing the complaint and £500 for the distress caused. The LGO said the care provider should provide a full written apology to the man for its failure to provide adequate care to his wife and also apologise for its failure to deal with his complaint properly. It should also waive the full fee for her stay in the home.
The report will be shared with the Care Quality Commission.