Council failed Derbyshire women with terminal illness

A Derbyshire woman with a terminal illness died by the time a council came forward with plans which could have made her final days more “dignified”, an investigation has found.

Monday, 26th July 2021, 9:20 am

This comes as a result of an investigation from council watchdog the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

In a report, the LGO says that a “Mr X” complained to the watchdog that his late wife, “Mrs X”, last months were “were unnecessarily painful and undignified” as a result of failures from Derbyshire County Council

The watchdog has told the council to apologise to “Mr X” and pay him £250 for the “injustice” caused, causing the husband to “live with the uncertainty” that his wife of 42 years may have been helped to die with more dignity.

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The council was told to apologise and pay £250 for the “injustice” caused.

The watchdog says “Mr X” contacted the council in August last year asking for the council to assess his wife to see if there were any adaptations which would be made to their Bolsover district home which would make their lives easier – such as a stairlift.

The council responded to “Mr X” to say it would be at least 18 months before any works could be done to the home, with the watchdog noting “’Mrs X’ was not likely to live that long”.

In October, 2020, the council contacted “Mr X” to arrange a date to assess his wife, but “by this time, ‘Mrs X’ had died” – six weeks after “Mr X” had contacted the authority.

The council apologised and said there had been a backlog caused by Covid-19 along with wide issues with occupational therapist staffing, which was part of a national shortage.

It told the watchdog: “This is a national problem, not unique to this council, and has led to the government listing Occupational Therapy as a ‘shortage occupation’.”

The council said that in January 2020 there was a backlog of 178 requests for home assessments by authority occupational therapists in Bolsover district alone, with the oldest request stretching back nine months.

By August 2020, it said, in the midst of the pandemic, this had surged to 293 outstanding requests in the Bolsover area with the oldest stemming back 15 months.

At that time, the average waiting time for an assessment was 143 days – nearly five months.

The ombudsman said: “The most significant injustice caused by the council’s delay was to ‘Mrs X’.

“As she is now deceased, this cannot be remedied. Even if the council had assessed her sooner, it is very unlikely it would have been able to install a stairlift before she died.

“However, it might have been able to provide other aids to help ‘Mr X’ care for his wife of 42 years with as much dignity as possible in her last days.

A spokesperson for Derbyshire County Council said: “We’d like to apologise to the family involved in this case that we were not able to make an assessment before the sad death of their loved one.

“There has been a national shortage of occupational therapists for some time, and councils have to compete with the health service who are major employers of the profession. We are doing all we can to recruit more OTs, with two recent recruitment drives and we’re about to advertise again to fill some vacant positions.”