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Rotherham family prevented from spending quality time together in man’s final days

An elderly man’s stepdaughter was not allowed to spend proper time with him before he died because Rotherham Council decided at face value she was a risk, following a safeguarding referral, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

The man had dementia and had been cared for in his home for five years by the woman, who had been in his life since she was a child.

After a hospital stay, social workers decided the man should be moved to a care home because of concerns for the man’s safety between care calls. The council received information that the stepdaughter and her mother were trying to stop the man from going to the care home as they believed he was better off in his own home.

The council told the hospital and the care home not to disclose any information about the man to the women because of safeguarding concerns. The care home spoke to the stepdaughter and told her police would be called if they tried to visit.

Some days later, when she tried to find out why she had been stopped from seeing him, the daughter discovered her stepfather was on end-of-life care

The next day the council allowed  the stepdaughter and her mother to have 30-minute supervised visits. Three days later the man died.

Over the next few months both the council and police carried out an investigation into the safeguarding concerns, but no further action was taken.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council did not carry out a best interest decision before moving the man to a care home, despite assessing him as lacking capacity to make decisions about his care and support needs.

It also delayed arranging for an independent advocate to represent him until 12 days before he died, and it did not consider whether it was appropriate to consult with the women about the man’s care.

The ombudsman also found fault with the way the council decided to prevent the women from having contact when concerns were raised: there was no evidence of a proper decision making process and it appears the council simply accepted the concern at face value without interrogating the concerns further.

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

“Modern families are incredibly diverse and can take many shapes and forms, but in this case the council took an overly simplistic view that because this woman was not biologically linked to the man, she wasn’t his family, and did not need to include them in its decision-making.

“The woman had been caring for her stepfather for five years, and had made it clear from the outset that she was not the man’s biological daughter, but there is no evidence the council considered this when it decided to restrict her contact.

“Instead, it decided there was no need to even consider her – or her mother’s – views, or the significant emotional impact that restricting contact might have on them at such a sensitive time.

“I’m pleased the council has agreed to my recommendations and hope it will take a more open-minded view when making decisions about families’ circumstances in future.”

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 women and pay them £600 each for the distress and uncertainty caused.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to remind staff of the proper way to make best interest decisions and record those decisions. It will also remind staff of their duties under the Human Rights Act and review its safeguarding procedures.

Article date: 31 March 2022