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Suffolk girl with special educational needs left without vital therapy

A Suffolk girl did not receive vital Occupational Therapy for nearly two years because of council confusion, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

The girl, who has Autism and hypermobility, attended a mainstream primary school with support. The Occupational Therapy (OT) it was agreed she needed should have helped with her co-ordination difficulties and sensory overload.

The council agreed to include the OT support in a draft Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) – the legal document setting out the girl’s needs and how they should be met – in February 2019. Although this plan was never formalised, the girl did receive some OT support until February 2020 when it stopped because of COVID-19 restrictions.

The girl then missed out on the therapy she needed for nearly two years until February 2022 when the OT was reinstated.

The girl’s mother asked the Ombudsman to investigate. The Ombudsman found the council delayed completing the review of the girl’s EHCP in 2019. It should have issued the final plan in May 2019, but did not do so until January 2021. The Ombudsman also found the council did not take any action to seek alternative provision for the girl when her OT (which was provided by the NHS) stopped. Instead it wrongly believed it was the school’s responsibility to ensure the provision was in place.

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

“Councils have a duty to ensure therapies as set out in children’s EHC Plans are delivered. I am concerned the council wrongly believed it could delegate this duty to the girl’s school.

“This long delay between therapy sessions has had a profound effect on the family. The girl has missed out on vital support: she has become distressed and has had to move schools. Her mother tells me she has experienced anxiety and distress knowing her daughter’s mental health was deteriorating.

“The changes I have recommended the council make should ensure it has better systems in place to monitor the support it provides to children such as in this case. I urge the council to consider my report thoroughly and look forward to the council’s agreement to the recommendations I have made.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman remedies injustice and shares learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council should apologise to the family and pay them £550 to recognise the anxiety and uncertainty about the loss of provision and lost opportunity to appeal, and for the time and trouble in bringing the complaint.

It should also pay a further £1,800 to reflect the loss of potential OT support between September 2020 and January 2021, and £4,000 to recognise the loss of provision from January 2021 to February 2022.

The council is currently changing its procedures following an independent review of SEND services carried out in 2021, which highlighted some of the same issues arising in this complaint. The Ombudsman also makes recommendations to improve processes for the wider public, and has made the following recommendations in light of this review.

The Ombudsman has recommended the council should arrange staff training, review its processes to ensure EHC Plans are amended and issued in line with statutory timescales. It should also ensure it has a way to check provision is arranged from the start of a new or amended plan. It will also review sources of therapy services and develop a plan to ensure it can commission therapies needed to support the EHC plans it maintains.

Article date: 30 June 2022