Leeds Council wrongly prevented a woman seeing her mother before she died

Leeds City Council wrongly kept a daughter from visiting her elderly mother in a care home.

In her report, issued today, Local Government Ombudsman Anne Seex says the Council’s fault deprived the woman “of the opportunity to speak with her mother before they were separated forever by death.”

She added: “Relatives and friends have the right to visit and see each other without undue interference and the right to respect for family life is enshrined in law. Ms B was told unexpectedly – and without there being any evidence – that she was regarded as a threat to her own mother, denied access to her, made to hand over a Christmas gift outside the home and made to wait for over a month for the Council’s processes before finally being told that she could see her mother.”

Ms B was estranged from her family. Shortly before Christmas she learned that her mother was in a care home and not likely to live long. Her brother wrote to the home saying that Ms B would try to remove their mother from the home and would upset her by talking about money. The home passed the information on to Council officers and told Ms B that she could not visit her mother.

A couple of days later an officer asked Ms B's brother about his allegations. He withdrew them but said he was concerned that his mother would be upset by seeing Ms B. A manager says that the officer concerned was told that Ms B could not be prevented from seeing her mother and that, because of the concern that her mother (Mrs B) might be distressed, staff should assess Mrs B’s capacity to decide whether or not to see her daughter.

In the event:

  • the home continued to tell Ms B that she could not visit her mother
  • Ms B had to stand outside the home and hand a Christmas gift for her mother to staff, and
  • the officer arranged for a specialist to assess Mrs B's capacity and this took a month.

By the time that the assessment was done and Ms B could visit, her mother had had a stroke and was unable to recognise or communicate with her daughter. Sadly, she died the next day.

The Ombudsman found maladministration in the Council:

  • preventing Ms B from seeing her mother for over a month, and 
  • failing to review the situation after any of the nine contacts from Ms B.

The Ombudsman found that the nature and scale of this injustice was difficult to express or quantify. The Council accepted her recommendation (made after consulting Ms B) that it should:

  • make a full written apology to Ms B
  • pay for a bench with an inscribed plaque in a location of Ms B’s choice
  • help Ms B to find out where her mother is buried or was cremated, and
  • pay Ms B £5,000 in recognition of the distress caused to her.

There has been comprehensive staff training since the events in Ms B’s complaint and so the Ombudsman has not recommended any further action.

Report ref no 10 012 561

For legal reasons, people’s real names are not used in the Local Government Ombudsman’s reports.

Article date: 06 December 2011

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