A council was at fault for delaying an assessment following a Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) referral, a Local Government Ombudsman report has found.
Staffordshire county council failed to arrange a best interests assessment within 21 days of the referral being made, causing Mr B, the complainant, “unnecessary distress” as he was left in the dark about his wife’s care arrangements.
The council was also found to be at fault for discussing the couple’s case with their neighbours without Mr B’s consent.
Mr B cared for his wife at home but asked Staffordshire council to arrange two weeks respite care for his wife in January 2017. The council told the couple they would need to contribute £121.39 per week towards the cost of Mrs B’s care, which they accepted.
However, Mrs B was moved into care earlier than scheduled when Mr B became unwell and was admitted to hospital. During the next couple of months, he was taken into hospital a further two times, leading his GP to tell social workers that he was too sick to care for his wife, who remained in care.
Mr B was visited by social workers in March. One of his neighbours, who helped to care for Mrs B, sat in on the meeting and explained that their main concerns were about Mr B’s ability to care for Mrs B at night. She also questioned what would happen when Mr B had to attend hospital appointments in the future.
The social workers explained to Mr B and his neighbour that Mrs B did not have any night-time needs, but the council would arrange for district nurses and carers from its enablement service to visit four times a day.
Mr B not present
According to council records, Mr B became angry when the social workers told him they would be unable to continue to fund the respite care, prompting his neighbour to suggest moving the discussion to her house without Mr B, which they did.
Following the meeting, one of the social workers completed a risk assessment on 8 March, telling the care home to complete an urgent DoLS referral.
The council appointed a best interests assessor, who carried out an assessment, on 7 April. Mr B told the assessor he intended to take Mrs B out of respite care and look after her at home. He stated he did not want carers or district nurses visiting his home.
Despite noting social workers and health professionals were concerned about Mr B’s ability to cope with Mrs B’s care needs and suggesting she remain in respite care, the assessor concluded that requirements for a deprivation of liberty authorisation had not been met. This was because Mrs B had capacity to make decisions about her care arrangements and was eqaully as happy to go home as she was to remain in a care setting.
Mr B took Mrs B home the next day without a package of care in place.
Council at fault
The ombudsman found Staffordshire council was at fault on two counts. Firstly, it stated the social workers should not have continued the meeting about Mrs B’s care arrangements without Mr B, concluding this happened without his consent.
The delayed best interests assessment was also a fault, according to the ombudsman. It noted the care home made the DoLS referral on 8 March, but the best interests assessment was not carried out until 7 April, exceeding the 21-day limit for a standard deprivation of liberty authorisation.
The ombudsman added the council’s inability to conduct the assessment within the required time caused Mr B “unnecessary distress” as it was likely Mr B “would have felt able to take Mrs B home sooner”.
After accepting the ombudsman’s ruling, Staffordshire council agreed to remind the relevant staff that they must complete assessments for a standard deprivation of liberty authorisation within 21 days, and that they must not discuss a person’s case with a third party without the person’s consent.