Worcestershire County Council (22 017 722)

Category : Adult care services > COVID-19

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 04 Jul 2023

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complains the Council’s Reablement Team took revenge on her after she complained about one of its assistants, by giving her caffeinated tea which made her ill. The Council upheld her original complaint and apologised. There is no evidence of fault by the Council causing injustice which requires a further remedy.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Ms X, complains the Council’s Reablement Team took revenge on her after she complained about one of its assistants, by giving her caffeinated tea which made her ill.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
  3. 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 and care provider followed the relevant legislation, guidance and our published “Good Administrative Practice during the response to COVID-19”.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have:
    • considered the complaint and the documents provided by Ms X’s advocate;
    • discussed the complaint with the advocate;
    • considered the documents the Council has provided;
    • considered the Ombudsman’s guidance on remedies; and
    • invited comments on a draft of this statement from Ms X, her advocate and the Council, for me to consider before making my final decision.

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What I found

What happened

  1. Ms X has mental health problems. In June 2022 she was receiving support from the Council’s Reablement Service. She complained one of its assistants:
    • failed to cover their face appropriately when in her home;
    • gave her tea bags containing caffeine (to which she is allergic), which she had labelled “not to be used”; and
    • placed dirty items in the recycling bin.
  2. When the Council replied to her complaint, it said the assistant had not denied her claims and apologised for any distress they may have caused. The Council also apologised. It said it had shared updated COVID-19 guidance with all the assistants in the Reablement Team, which made it clear they had to wear masks. It said it had removed the assistant from the schedule of Ms X’s visits. It told her she could complain to the Ombudsman if she was not satisfied with its response.
  3. The advocate complained to us in March 2023 that:
    • because of Ms X’s complaint, the assistants gave her caffeinated tea at every visit, despite Ms X reminding she was allergic at every visit and hiding the tea bags;
    • the assistants were rude and aggressive;
    • it was hard controlling the allergic reactions with medication, which took 60 minutes to work, as she had to take more tablets and they took longer to work; and
    • she had nightmares for months afterwards.
  4. The Council has provided the records of its contact with Ms X following her June 2022 complaint. I summarise the contents below.
  5. 28 June - The Reablement Team reported Ms X being increasingly rude with some of its assistants. It said she may benefit from a review of her needs as she could “go shopping etc”.
  6. 29 June - Ms X called the Council to say she had spoken to an officer who had hung up on her.
  7. 1 July - Ms X complained no one had returned a call she made the previous day. An officer apologised to her.
  8. 22 July - Ms X complained about both assistants being in the kitchen at the same time. She said one of them could have been helping her. She said they sometimes spoke to her as if she were a child. The Council apologised and asked if she wanted it to deal with this as a formal complaint. Ms X said “no”.
  9. 4 August - Ms X asked if the assistants could collect her laundry before visiting. She also complained they were not doing the tasks set for them.
  10. 13 August - an assistant reported Ms X shouting at them and slamming doors when they visited.
  11. 24 August - Ms X said the assistants had only been there for 25 minutes when they were supposed to be there for 45 minutes. She said she had wanted a wash.
  12. 28 August - Ms X complained the assistants were “pretty useless”, gave her no choice over breakfast, gave her blackcurrant to drink and didn’t put plastic in the recycling.
  13. 26 September - Ms X said she did not want the assistants as they were all useless. That day and the next Ms X turned them away when they visited.
  14. 30 September - Ms X said she no longer wanted male assistants in the morning.
  15. 4 October - Ms X said an assistant may have left the door unlocked overnight. The Council checked with the assistant who confirmed having locked the door. It passed the information on to Ms X.
  16. 7 October - Ms X cancelled her evening call as she wanted neither assistant in her home.
  17. 10 October - An assistant reported Ms X being verbally aggressive. The assistants had offered to help Ms X with a shower but she wanted to have a cup of tea first, which would have resulted in the call overrunning. They reported Ms X shouting and swearing at them and asking them to leave. As they left Ms X slammed the door making physical contact with an assistant and hurting them. Ms X reported the same incident to the Council. According to its records she swore and was “clearly very aggravated”. Ms X said she was annoyed as an assistant needed to use the toilet, which ate into her call time. Ms X asked the Council to cancel her calls until 17 October, as she needed a break.
  18. 16 October - Ms X cancelled her morning and evening calls until 20 October.
  19. 18 October – Ms X said her lunch and teatime calls were too close together. She asked what time her calls would be that day. The Council told her the co‑ordinators had not yet assigned her calls to the assistants, so it could not yet confirm the time.
  20. 19 October - Ms X told the Council she did not want a specific assistant to visit her the following week. She named two other assistants she said she would not let in. She said staff were giving her caffeinated tea bags she was allergic to. The Council suggested throwing them out, but Ms X was not happy with the response.
  21. 21 October - Ms X told the Council she no longer needed its services and its visits were causing more stress than help.
  22. 31 October - Ms X confirmed she no longer wanted the Council’s support.

Is there evidence of fault by the Council which caused injustice?

  1. There is no dispute over the fact an assistant failed to cover their face, gave Ms X caffeinated tea and placed dirty items in the recycling. The Council has accepted and apologised for those faults. There is no need for it to do more than that.
  2. However, the evidence does not support the claim the assistants then gave Ms X caffeinated tea at every visit. Despite having frequent contact with the Council and raising other concerns, she did not mention caffeinated tea until 19 October. Given the frequency of her contact and the impact she says this had on her, it seems unlikely she would have waited so long to raise this as an issue if it had been happening.
  3. The records show the relationship between Ms X and members of the Reablement Team broke down. They also show Ms X’s need for support had reduced. It would have been helpful if the Council had reviewed her needs when it identified the need to do this in June. But the failure to do that did not cause injustice to Ms X.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation on the basis there is no evidence of fault by the Council causing injustice which requires a further remedy.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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