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Council agrees apology, payout after Ombudsman investigation into how complainant was prevented from spending quality time with relative in his final days

The stepdaughter of an elderly man with dementia was stopped from spending proper time with him before he died after Rotherham Council decided at face value she was a risk, following a safeguarding referral.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found there was no evidence of a proper decision-making process when the woman was prevented from having contact with her stepfather, saying "it appears the council simply accepted the concern at face value without interrogating the concerns further".

The woman had been in his life since she was a child and had cared for him for five years in his home.

Following a hospital stay, the man was moved to a care home due to concerns from social workers over his safety between care calls.

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The council received information that the stepdaughter and her mother believed he was better off in his own home and were trying to stop this from happening.

The care home and hospital were told by the council not to disclose any information about the man to the women due to safeguarding concerns. The stepdaughter was told that if they tried to visit, the police would be called.

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

The following day the stepdaughter and her mother were told they could have 30-minute supervised visits. Three days later the man died.

An investigation was carried out by the council and police into the safeguarding concerns over the next few months, but no further action was taken.

Following the Ombudsman's report, Rotherham has agreed to apologise to the women and pay them £600 each for the distress and uncertainty caused.

It has also 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.

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.”

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

Rotherham Council’s Chief Executive, Sharon Kemp, said: “The council has provided its sincerest apologies for the distress suffered as a result of the way in which we dealt with the issues that those involved raised at what was a particularly difficult time.

“We recognise the distress caused. The council strives to do our best to make sure that we deliver the best service possible to those we serve. We are sorry that we fell short of what those involved had a right to expect and what we expect of ourselves. 

“We understand that as well as the apology those involved will want to be reassured that their experience improves services for others. The Ombudsman has provided the council with clear actions to undertake. We have added to this, produced an action plan and are on track towards completion. This will be reported to our Audit Committee on 12 April to enable councillors to monitor implementation and oversee the improvements.”

Lottie Winson

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