Disabled couple put at risk after carers did not wear masks and provided less care than contracted, Ombudsman finds

Care workers put a couple at risk of harm after they failed to wear the right personal protective equipment (PPE) and provided home care on a basis inconsistent with the care plan laid out for them, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

The investigation, which found the London Borough of Bexley at fault for injustice caused to the couple, began after the couple's daughter lodged a complaint claiming PPE was not worn and care hours were less than contracted.

She also complained that one of the provider's carers stole £56,000 from her parents. The Ombudsman said at paragraph 7 that the law says it cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, it may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended).

The Ombudsman report said: "I have not investigated Mrs X’s complaint about the theft of £56,000 because of the restriction in paragraph 7 above. Mrs X wants the money to be returned to her parents and believes the Council and Care Provider have some responsibility for doing this. The issue of liability for a criminal act, including whether the Council’s and/or the Care Provider’s negligence were contributory factors, is a legal matter. I consider it would be reasonable for Mrs X to take the matter to court."

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The complainant's parents are both disabled and live at home together with a package of care provided by the council. The mother has dementia and lacks the capacity to make significant decisions for herself. In addition, she is paralysed on one side, affecting her mobility.

The father has physical disabilities, which mean he needs help with most practical tasks, including using a keyboard.

Westminster Homecare had been caring for the couple at the council's request since 2007. In January 2021, a new provider took over.

The council's safeguarding reports found that carers visiting the home wore no face masks until 29 December 2020. Then, between December and mid-January, care workers either wore no face mask or used a clear mask with no visor, which was not in line with government guidance.

They also failed to wear gloves or aprons unless showering the complainant's parents.

The care package laid out a schedule of home visits broken into breakfast, lunchtime, teatime and bedtime sessions. However, the investigation found that instead of visiting four times a day, their visits had run back-to-back.

In addition, the safeguarding reports found that the carers cut the visits short, leading to around 15 and a half hours a week less than contracted, raising the possibility the parents were overcharged for their care.

As a result of the visits being condensed into a block of calls, medication was not spaced out properly, food and fluid intake could not be met properly, and continence needs were not addressed as often as necessary, the Ombudsman said.

"There is no dispute over the fact Care Workers provided back-to-back calls in the mornings and afternoons," the LGSCO investigation found.

"The Care Provider accepts there is no evidence Mr Y agreed to this. It seems likely this arrangement was put in place for the convenience of the Care Workers, as it enabled them to spend less time between calls.

"They also spent less time with Mr & Mrs Y than was necessary to meet all their care needs. These are faults for which the council is accountable."

The report added: "Their care was not person centred, nor was it provided in a dignified way by leaving them for too long between the evening and morning calls. It also put them at risk of harm by failing to provide proper support with maintaining skin integrity and failing to provide some medication as prescribed."

The Ombudsman said there is also no dispute over the fact that care workers were not using PPE properly. This put the couple at further risk of harm and fault for which the council was accountable.

In light of the findings, the Ombudsman recommended that Bexley apologise to the couple for the problems they had experienced, including the failure to meet all their care needs, the failure to provide person-centred or dignified care and the risk of harm they had been put under.

The local authority should pay them £500 each and a further £250 to the couple's daughter alongside an apology for the time and trouble she had experienced in pursuing the complaint.

Furthermore, the council should identify the extent to which the couple have been overcharged for their care and refund the money to them.

The Ombudsman also asked Bexley to work with Westminster Homecare on an action plan for improving its practices to ensure other people do not experience the same problems as the complainant's parents.

Bexley and Westminster Homecare have both been approached for a statement.

Adam Carey

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