SOMERSET: Williton care home ombudsman ruling
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A Somerset care home operator has been ordered to pay compensation after it failed to communicate properly with the family of an elderly resident.
The resident – known as Mr Y – lived at the Croft House Care Home on Bank Street in Williton, which is operated by Somerset Care.
Mr Y’s relative – known as Mrs X – complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) after Mr Y’s death in July 2020, arguing that he had received poor care and that staff had failed to keep the family updated about his condition.
More than a year on from his death, the ombudsman has ordered Somerset Care to apologise and pay the family compensation in light of “distress” caused by its poor communication.
What happened to Mr Y?
The ombudsman exists to investigate allegations of “maladministration” and “service failure” in the public sector – in other words, instances in which it is claimed councils have not fully carried out their legal duties to taxpayers.
Mr Y, who had dementia, complained to care home staff in April 2020 that he was feeling unwell, with a GP visiting him five times in the space of a month.
Staff and district nurses reviewed Mr Y’s care plan in May, following concerns that he was having difficulty breathing – but his family was not involved in the review, with Mrs X claiming she was not contacted (a claim the care home disputes).
By early-June, Mr Y had loss five kilograms in weight and suffered his third fall since April, prompting a further review of his care plan – again without involving his family.
Mr Y’s health continued to deteriorate as the month wore on, with the resident having a “low mood” and being prescribed antibiotics for a suspected infection following a further GP visit.
On June 22, Mr Y began to choke while eating his lunch; he was immediately placed on a “soft diet” and his care plan reviewed to “reflect the recent deterioration in his mobility” – with these changes once again not being relayed to the family.
By June 26, Mr Y was deemed to need end of life care, and he suffered a further fall the following day (about which his family were informed).
His condition deteriorated further over the following days, with Mrs X claiming the care home did not informed her about him “gasping for air” on June 29.
Mr Y passed away on the morning of July 1, 2020, an hour after a member of staff noticed he had “shallow breathing”.
Mrs X complained to the care home manager, arguing staff should have noticed his declining state earlier and reassessed his needs more quickly.
She subsequently complained to Somerset Care’s head office, alleging that Mr Y’s care records were “inaccurate”.
While the company did accept there had been “poor communication” with Mrs X and apologised for this, they did not accept her claims about the quality of care Mr Y had received – resulting in Mrs X bringing her case to the ombudsman.
What did the ombudsman say?
The ombudsman ruled that there was “no evidence that Mr Y’s deterioration was discussed or communicated to his family” between April and June.
This lack of communication, coupled with visits to the care home being restricted due to coronavirus, caused Mrs X “significant distress and uncertainty”.
The ombudsman has Somerset Care to make a “symbolic” payment to Mrs X of £150 “in recognition of the distress caused to her at a difficult time.”
However, the ombudsman agreed with the care provide that its records “do not show evidence of poor care”, pointing to the regular GP visits and the input of district nurses.
How has Somerset Care responded?
Nicola Kelly, Somerset Care’s director of care, has apologised to the resident’s family and said changes had been made to its internal communication procedures to prevent this from happening again.
She said: “We were asked by the LGSCO to investigate a complaint made by the relative of a former resident at Croft House.
“We would once again like to extend our apologies to the family of this resident for any distress caused, and thank them for taking the appropriate steps to bring their concerns to our attention.
“The complaint raised concerns about the standard of care provided to the resident, and the quality of communication between Croft House and the resident’s family.
“The LGSCO’s independent investigation concluded that there was no evidence of poor care, and this element of the complaint was not upheld.
“We requested that the complaint regarding communication be upheld, further to acknowledging these same concerns and apologising to the complainant as part of our own internal complaints procedure.
“We recognise that communication with this resident’s family had fallen short of our own high standards, and once again offer our sincere apologies for this.
“We are always looking to improve our service, and have since upgraded our internal communication procedures to ensure that relatives are appropriately communicated with whenever there is any change to their loved one’s condition.
“Concluding its report, the LGSCO requested that we offer a symbolic payment to the complainant in recognition of the impact of the isolated communication failures in this case.
“This offer was accepted by the complainant and the payment has been made. The LGSCO have concluded that we have met all of its requirements and the complaint is now closed.”
Words: Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter
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