Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council (20 009 078)

Category : Adult care services > COVID-19

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 27 Jan 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We shall not investigate this complaint that a carer allegedly gave Mrs Y COVID-19. It is unlikely we would be able to reach a clear enough view about the events.

The complaint

  1. Miss X complains her mother Mrs Y caught COVID-19 from a carer provided by the Council. Sadly, Mrs Y died of COVID-19.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. This complaint involves events that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government introduced a range of new and frequently updated rules and guidance during this time. We can consider whether the council or care provider followed the relevant legislation, guidance and our published “Good Administrative Practice during the response to Covid-19”.
  2. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe it is unlikely we would find fault, or it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  3. The Council arranged for a care provider to send carers to look after Mrs Y. Where an individual, organisation or private company is providing services on behalf of a council, we can investigate complaints about the actions of these providers. (Local Government Act 1974, section 25(7), as amended) We therefore consider the Council ultimately responsible for the care provider’s actions. For this reason, and for clarity, this statement refers to ‘the Council.’

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Miss X provided, including copy correspondence with the care provider who acted on the Council’s behalf. I gave Miss X the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Miss X says her mother’s carers wore masks but often arrived with their masks not covering their noses, though Miss X told them to wear masks properly before they attended to her mother. Miss X says she does not know if carers wore masks incorrectly while preparing her mother’s food. The Council says as the family did not report carers wearing masks wrongly while actually with Mrs Y, it does not believe the carers could have infected Mrs Y.
  2. A carer continued looking after Mrs Y after the carer’s doctor had advised the carer to get a COVID-19 test and while the carer awaited the test result. The Council says the carer went to her doctor about something unrelated to COVID-19 and was advised to get a COVID-19 test just as a precaution before having further tests or treatment. The Council says it therefore decided the carer could continue working as she had no COVID-19 symptoms. Miss X argues the carer did have some COVID-19 symptoms. Miss X believes the test result showed the carer had COVID-19. I understand the carer stopped working with Mrs Y from the date Miss X believes the carer received the test result.
  3. Miss X and a relative also tested positive for COVID-19 at the same time Miss X believes the carer did. Miss X suggests the family caught it from the carer as she says she and her relative had been very careful to avoid infection.
  4. Mrs Y then tested positive for COVID-19. Very sadly, Mrs Y died soon afterwards.
  5. At the time of the events, there was no requirement for someone who was asymptomatic to self-isolate while awaiting a test result. So the Council need not automatically have stopped the carer working unless it believed the carer had COVID-19 symptoms.
  6. I understand the events were difficult and very distressing for Miss X and her family. However, it is unlikely any investigation by the Ombudsman could find information that would enable us to decide confidently, on balance, the following points:
    • Whether the Council was at fault for believing the carer was asymptomatic, at least regarding the main symptoms of COVID-19.
    • Whether any carers did not wear masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) properly in Mrs Y’s presence or when preparing her food.
    • Whether Mrs Y caught COVID-19 from a carer. I note Mrs Y had contact with other people, not just the carers, and some family members tested positive around the same time as Miss X believes the carer did. I note Miss X’s view that the family all caught COVID-19 from a carer. However, that is speculative. I consider it is unlikely we would be able to find evidence to satisfy us about that on balance.
  7. Therefore I consider it unlikely we would be able to conclude, on balance, that any fault on the Council’s behalf resulted in Mrs Y catching COVID-19.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is unlikely we could conclude the Council was responsible for Mrs Y catching COVID-19.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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