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Council fails to investigate cancer cluster concerns

Barking and Dagenham council is to investigate reports of a possible cancer cluster within the borough, after it previously failed to act on a woman’s concerns.

The council has also agreed to make a number of improvements to its services which have been recommended by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman in its investigation of the case.

A woman first reported the cluster to the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham in April 2018, and chased the council about her concerns over many months. However, instead of going through the proper procedures, the council failed to respond to the woman, lost her reports in its systems, and did not take them through the appropriate public health channels.

When the council eventually did consider the woman’s complaint about its inaction, it referred the woman to the Environment Agency instead of the Ombudsman.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“I am highlighting this case to raise councils’ awareness that we can – and will – investigate the actions of Directors of Public Health where we receive complaints.

“The Health and Social Care Act 2012 gives councils the responsibility to improve their population’s overall health, and this includes acting on reports of non-infectious disease clusters.

“We are concerned about the lack of understanding within the council of its public health duties in relation to this issue. So I hope the changes the council has agreed to make, including developing and circulating a new procedure, will help ensure awareness is raised within the authority.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the woman and pay her £750 to recognise the distress, uncertainty and confusion its faults have caused her. It will also investigate her concerns about the cancer cluster.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to develop a procedure detailing its expectations for teams dealing with reports of non-infectious disease clusters, and will consider how it can use this report to raise internal awareness of its public health duties.

Article date: 25 February 2021