A children’s social worker who was unlawfully prevented from seeing her mother in a care home before she died has been awarded £5,000 after Leeds Council was found guilty of maladministration.
Local government ombudsman Anne Seex found the council – in partnership with the NHS – was wrong to prevent the woman, known as Ms B, from visiting her elderly mother and added that this deprived her “of the opportunity to speak with her mother before they were separated forever by death.”
Seex added: “Relatives and friends have the right to visit and see each other without undue interference and the right to respect for family life is enshrined in law.”
Ms B, who works in children’s social work, was estranged from her family but shortly before Christmas 2008 learned that her mother, Mrs B, was in a care home and not likely to live long.
Ms B was prevented from seeing her mother because her brother had written to the home saying that Ms B would try to remove their mother from the home and would upset her by talking about money. The home passed the information on to the council and told Ms B that she could not visit her mother.
A couple of days later the care manager who placed Mrs B in the home asked Ms B’s brother about his allegations. He withdrew them but said he was concerned that his mother would be upset by seeing Ms B.
The care manager was part of a joint care management team run by the council and Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust, and was employed by the trust.
In evidence to the ombudsman, a service manager, also employed by the trust, said she told the care manager that Ms B could not be prevented from visiting her mother, but that an urgent referral should be made for a general advocate to assess Mrs B’s capacity to decide whether or not to see her daughter.
However, the service manager admitted that Ms B was not told that she could visit her mother, and the home continued to prevent her from doing so. She also said that the care manager arranged for Mrs B’s capacity to be assessed by a specialist independent mental capacity advocate, rather than a general advocate, leading to a month-long delay in the assessment.
Ms B contacted the council nine times during this period, but by the time that the assessment was done and Ms B could visit, her mother had had a stroke and was unable to recognise or communicate with her daughter. She died the next day.
The ombudsman found the council guilty of maladministration because it prevented Ms B from seeing her mother for over a month and failed to review the situation after any of the nine contacts from Ms B.
The council accepted Seex’s recommendations to make a full written apology to Ms B, pay for a bench with an inscribed plaque in a location of Ms B’s choice, help Ms B to find out where her mother is buried or was cremated, and pay Ms B £5,000.
There has also been comprehensive staff training since the events in Ms B’s complaint and so the ombudsman has not recommended any further action.
“The ombudsman’s report describes a standard that, on this occasion, fell well below what the council expects when dealing with such a sensitive situation. On behalf of Leeds Council, I extend deepest apologies for the distress Ms B has experienced.
“Immediately after the events, we commissioned an independent review of our safeguarding practice. This discovered that this was an isolated series of errors and misjudgements, which I am relieved to say was not the result of fundamentally flawed policy within our joint care services.
“We have learned a number of important lessons in communication, training and management. Together with colleagues in the Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust, we will continue to ensure that these lessons are used to strengthen the quality of our services.”
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