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Wiltshire Council's adult care heavily censured by ombudsman after mother's complaint

The complaint by a mother about highly inappropriate changes made by Wiltshire Council's adult care services to her adult son's care has been upheld by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman - and sanctions have been imposed on the council.
The mother (Mrs N) complained that respite care for her son (Mr P) had been wrongly cut (from 104 nights a year to 68) and she was wrongly asked to pay towards the cost of her son's transport between home and day care.

The Ombudsman's decision was clear: "The Council was at fault for reducing the respite care and for asking Mrs N to contribute towards the transport. This fault caused injustice.  In particular it caused her stress and affected her wellbeing.  We have suggested a remedy to reflect this."

It is, as many such care cases, a very complex and distressing situation.   Mr & Mrs N's adult son, Mr P, who lives at home with them, has severe learning difficulties and epilepsy.  He is doubly incontinent, incapable of speech and has severe cognitive impairment.

Recently Mr N has become disabled and Mrs N now acts as carer for them both.  She has described herself as 'close to breaking point'. Mrs N initially tried the Council's complaints procedure and was not happy with the response.

In its report (published April 27) the Ombudsman found the Council was at fault for failing to follow its own complaints procedures which were in fact laid down in 2009 statutory regulations.  The Council has accepted it was at fault.

The Ombudsman says the Council were using the wrong method to set Mr P's care: "The Council says the family is receiving care 'at the top level'.  This approach does not accord with the care Act which requires councils to assess and meet eligible needs.  The Council cannot set maximum budget levels.  The Act says eligible needs must be met, no matter what the cost."

Wiltshire Council has accepted the Ombudsman's report and is complying with eleven actions 'to remedy the injustice'.  The Council must apologise to Mrs N.  It will restore the previous level of Mr P's respite care and will offer 24 days extra respite care 'in recognition of the respite care wrongly withdrawn'.

The Council must repay to Mrs N the £747.50 she had paid for transport and also pay her £500 in recognition of 'distress and time and trouble'. 

The Council must also review 'its policy and procedure on respite care', review relevant files to find if others were similarly affected, review files of anyone whose transport was cut and inform the Ombudsman of the numbers of people involved.  They must ensure staff training reflects the Care Act and review 'all relevant documents to ensure they reflect the current law'.

The Clouncil has found 142 people whose cases need reviewing - each has been allocated a social worker.  Reviews on a third have been completed and from those there are no 'significant financial implications' for the council.

When the Ombudsman reports an injustice, the report must be considered by the relevant council body - in this case Wiltshire Council's cabinet.  It was on the agenda for the cabinet meeting of July 3.

According to the draft minutes of that meeting, Councillor Jerry Wickham presented the report and confirmed the Council's response.  He 'highlighted the actions proposed in response to the [Ombudsman's] eleven points and reemphasised the apology that had already been made.'

"There being no further questions..." the meeting approved the necessary steps to put matters right.  These steps included that a progress report should be made to the Council's Standards Committee and to its Health Select Committee within six months. 

This despite the report to cabinet stating that the progress report would go to the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee.  Why the sudden change of plan?

All personnel in such an inquiry by the Ombudsman are anonymous. So we have no idea whether this injustice was caused by the Council's agreed policy, by an automatic response to the government's austerity policy, through errors by an individual employee of the Council or who - if anyone - is being held responsible by the Council. 

Perhaps the Standards Committee should find out - and tell us.

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