The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complained the Care Provider commissioned by the Council, St Georges Park Care Home, unnecessarily prevented her from visiting her mother Mrs Y. Mrs X also complained the Care Provider did not properly care for Mrs Y and falsely accused her of abusing her mother. Mrs X says the Care Provider’s actions caused her distress. There was fault when the Council failed to respond to Mrs X’s complaint within the required timescales. This caused Mrs X inconvenience. The Council has made an offer of £250 to address its handling of Mrs X’s complaint and has agreed to my recommendation to address the service failure. This is a satisfactory remedy to address the injustice Mrs X suffered. There was no fault in the Care Provider’s actions.
- Mrs X complained the Care Provider stopped her from visiting her mother, Mrs Y, without giving her a proper reason for doing so.
- She also said the Care Provider wrongfully accused her of abusing Mrs Y and she further complained that the Care Provider was neglectful in its treatment of her mother.
- She said the Care Provider’s actions caused her distress and meant that she lost out on spending time with Mrs Y before she died.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
- We investigate complaints about councils and certain other bodies. 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)
- The Care Quality Commission (CQC) is the statutory regulator of care services. It keeps a register of care providers who show they meet the fundamental standards of care, inspects care services and issues reports on its findings. It also has power to enforce against breaches of fundamental care standards and prosecute offences.
How I considered this complaint
- I contacted Mrs X and discussed the complaint with her.
- I made enquiries of the Council and considered the information it provided. This included the Council’s complaint chronology and correspondence shared between Mrs X and the Council.
- I will write to Mrs X and the Council with the draft decision. I considered the comments I received from both before I wrote the final decision.
What I found
- Part 3 of the Local Government Act 1974 covers complaints where councils provide services themselves or arrange or commission care services from social care providers, even if the council charges the person receiving care for the services. The Act says we can treat the actions of the Care Provider as if they were the actions of the council in those cases.
- In this case, the Council commissioned the Care Provider to care for Mrs Y.
- The Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014 sets out the fundamental standards those registered to provide care services must achieve. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has issued guidance on how to meet the fundamental standards below which care must never fall.
- Regulation 13 states Care Providers must take a zero tolerance approach to abuse and should have robust procedures and process in place to prevent service users from being abused by staff or other people they come into contact with, including visitors.
Adult social care complaints
- There is only one stage to the Council’s complaints process. When a complaint is received a Council officer will contact the complainant and explain how the case will be investigated. The officer should also agree a timescale with the complainant which can be from 25 to a maximum of 65 working days.
- Mrs Y was elderly and suffered from dementia. The Council arranged for her to stay at the Care Provider’s nursing home on 29 September 2019.
- In October 2019, Mrs X made five calls to the Police regarding safeguarding concerns she had about the care Mrs Y and other residents were receiving at the home. She said:
- She saw a carer lift a resident up by the seat of their trousers
- There was a sore on Mrs Y’s bottom she believed was caused by carers helping her up in a similar way
- A third party told Mrs X that Mrs Y had been left to sit in urine soaked clothes
- Mrs Y was distressed a male carer had attended to her personal needs
They interviewed Mrs Y, the management, the carers and reviewed care records. The Police concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing on the Care Provider’s part.
The Council said it did not intend to accuse her of intentionally causing her mother harm.
- Mrs X remains unhappy the Care Provider restricted her from visiting the care home. The Care Provider had a duty to ensure Mrs Y’s safety as well as the wellbeing of the other residents staying at the home. After Mrs X made her allegations, the Police and Council investigated and did not find evidence supporting her claims. The Care Provider discussed the allegations Mrs X was making and advised her of the impact it was having on the other residents. Mrs X advised she was not prepared to stop raising the allegations. The Care Provider told Mrs X she was not allowed to visit the home because it was causing distress to the other residents. The Care Provider and Council facilitated contact between Mrs Y and Mrs X and attempted to rebuild the relationship between Mrs X and the home manager in order to resume visits but the evidence indicates Mrs X was not open to this. I am satisfied the Council acted appropriately. The Care Provider was entitled to decide restrictions on Mrs X’s contact were necessary having considered alternatives and taken steps to minimise the impact of the restrictions.
- Part of Mrs X’s complaint regards her belief that the Care Provider wrongly accused her of abusing Mrs Y. As stated above, once the Care Provider became aware that Mrs X had observed Mrs Y in a state of undress, it had a responsibility to investigate this and make sure Mrs Y was safe. It properly considered the circumstances of the situation and took appropriate, consequential action. The evidence shows the Council put measures in place to ensure the incident did not happen again and explained this to Mrs X. I do not find the Council or Care Provider at fault.
- The Council’s statutory complaints process requires it to respond to a complaint within a maximum of 65 working days. The Council took 215 working days to respond to Mrs X’s complaint. In the interests of fairness, I note that the Council was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic however, this is still a significant delay and is fault. Mrs X was likely put to inconvenience and stress because of this fault. The Council has made an offer of £250 to address the injustice Mrs X experienced. This is an appropriate action for the Council to take that remedies this injustice. However, the Council should also address its failure to keep to its timescales.
- Within three months of the date of my final decision, the Council has agreed to provide evidence showing it has reminded staff to ensure it keeps to required timescales.
- There was fault when the Council significantly delayed responding to Mrs X’s complaint. The Council has made a satisfactory financial award to address the injustice caused by the fault however I have made a recommendation to address the service failure. There was no fault on the Care Provider’s part. I have completed the investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman