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Woman left to die alone in Surrey care home

An elderly woman was left to die alone by Surrey care home staff while her daughter was waiting in a nearby room, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

The woman’s daughter complained she had been called too late to the care home Surrey County Council commissioned for her mother when her mother’s condition deteriorated in August 2019.

When she arrived she was left in a waiting area. Care workers told her that her mother was suffering with breathing difficulties and she had a headache. She said she was not told her mother was seriously ill and care workers were running round and the nurse ignored her.

When the daughter went into her mother’s room 15 minutes later, she found dried blood on the floor and oxygen pipes in her mother’s nose. It was apparent her mother had died, but nobody had prepared her for this.

The agency nurse looking after her mother told paramedics who attended what had happened, but never spoke to the daughter or offered her any sympathy.

A coroner’s inquest later found the woman had passed away from a brain haemorrhage, which would have been difficult to spot.

The Ombudsman’s investigation criticised the care home’s record keeping of the events that happened: there were discrepancies about when emergency phone calls were made. The investigation also found the woman’s care fell below expected standards and there was not an effective way of working with the NHS in place to ensure the woman received timely medical care from paramedics.

It also found the care home did not have enough appropriately qualified staff, and appropriate action was not taken in response to the problem. 

The Ombudsman also criticised the communication, care and support offered to the daughter.

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

“The daughter was not able to be with her mother as she died and her mother should not have been alone in the final moments of her life.

“Nobody should be left to find their mother in this way when they could have been prepared for the situation. But I cannot imagine the distress caused for this to then be compounded by a lack of compassion by care staff in the immediate aftermath.

“The council has already gone some way to investigating the daughter’s complaints, and I hope the further recommendations I have made should ensure that relatives are better considered when loved ones are receiving end of life care.”

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 daughter and make a symbolic payment of £500 to her.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to work with the care home to ensure it is regularly assessing staffing capacity and requirements so there are enough appropriately qualified staff at the care home. It has also agreed to ensure all care staff at the home receive training in communication skills and bereavement.

Article date: 23 March 2021