Pressure mounts for Suffolk County Council to face serious review after MPs and councillors back daughter’s complaints about mother’s care
- Credit: Su Anderson
Linda Chambers will never forget the sound of her mother’s screams in the final painful months leading up to her death.
Memories of the Suffolk care home to which her loved one was sent still haunt her and she will not rest without finding the answers she has been searching for.
Mrs Chambers has accused Suffolk County Council (SCC) of covering-up its failures, losing paperwork and ignoring medical evidence. She says her family’s fight for justice has been a long, emotional journey.
Today, with support from politicians, pressure is mounting for the council to carry out a serious review into Violet Pooley’s care prior to her death and its handling of the matter after.
The council has acknowledged shortcomings in its investigation, though strongly rejects claims of any cover-up and says there is no case for a serious review into its actions.
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SCC’s adult services chief Anna McCreadie has, however, referred the matter to the independent Adult Safeguarding Board and expressed sympathy with the family.
It comes as an EADT investigation this week revealed nearly 40% of care homes inspected this year had been given notices to improve by the Care Quality Commission.
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Mrs Pooley was first placed into care by SCC in March 2009 after a series of falls at her Bramford home.
At first Mrs Chambers says the privately-run home was “absolutely brilliant”.
But following staffing changes the family grew concerned, making their first complaint in 2009.
“Things went from bad to worse,” Mrs Chambers added.
“I thought the stench was terrible, there were so many failings – she might as well have stayed on her own for all the good it was doing her. It was chaos.”
She made numerous complaints to SCC, calling for the home to be investigated.
“They were just not interested,” she said.
Matters came to a head on Christmas Eve 2011 when her mother broke her hip in a serious fall at the home. Mrs Chambers claims her mother was moved after the accident, potentially worsening her injuries.
The council found it was not possible to say “categorically” who had moved her.
“It breaks my heart to think of the pain she must have been in,” Mrs Chambers said.
“She never really came round after that. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sound of her screaming.” After being released from hospital in early 2012, Mrs Pooley, also suffering from cancer, was admitted to Handford House, an end-of-life care home in Ipswich. Here, the treatment was said to have been “absolutely fantastic”.
“Older people’s homes can work, because I saw it for myself,” Mrs Chambers said.
“I cannot praise that place enough.”
Mrs Pooley died on June 15, 2012, aged 92, with her daughter at her bedside. But Mrs Chambers’ battle was just beginning.
She has sent numerous letters to SCC, which was responsible for ensuring Mrs Pooley’s safeguarding needs were met by the home, and lobbied politicians.
While her initial concerns focused on her mother’s care and the council’s alleged reluctance to intervene, Mrs Chambers also grew increasingly frustrated by what she claims to be the authority’s attempts to cover-up its failures to investigate properly.
She claims paperwork went missing and key reports were not included in its investigation.
She approached the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) to investigate the council’s handling of her case. In March the LGO’s report found fault with the council, saying it “failed to properly investigate” and recommended it apologise and pay compensation for those failures.
But it was not until September the council sent a formal letter of apology.
“I absolutely trusted the council and I thought they would do a thorough investigation,” Mrs Chambers said. “Instead I was just met with a brick wall – I think they let us down.”
Politicians support calls for a serious review
Sarah Adams, Labour’s spokesman for health and social care at the county council, said Mrs Pooley’s care “fell well below the standard any of our residents should expect”.
She said it was “unacceptable” the council took so long to apologise to Mrs Chambers after her initial complaints and called for a serious case review.
Liberal Democrat councillor Inga Lockington, who helped Mrs Chambers, said: “Every time the family has refused to accept the council’s findings, something new has come out of the woodwork – the fact her mum had a second fall – they would never have come out if she had not been so persistent.”
Mrs Chambers says she appreciates the help received from Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dan Poulter and Ipswich MP Ben Gummer.
Mr Gummer said: “I have written to the county council asking them to consider whether this would be appropriate for a serious case review.”
Dr Poulter added: “Violet Pooley was my constituent and I feel very sorry for her family who have suffered enormously waiting a very long time for a full explanation. I shall do all I can to help.”
SCC: Matter has been fully assessed and concluded
Suffolk County Council’s director for adult and community services, Anna McCreadie, said: “Losing a loved one is always a traumatic experience and I truly sympathise with the family as they continue to come to terms with their loss.
“The Ombudsman’s recommendations for compensation and procedural changes have been implemented by Suffolk County Council. Having considered these reports thoroughly myself, I was satisfied that the matter had been fully assessed and concluded.
“Furthermore, I have carefully considered Mrs Pooley’s case against the revised guidance criteria which now applies within the Care Act, and I am of the opinion that this case still does not meet that criteria.
“As it is important to ensure every potential avenue has been fully explored, I have asked the Adult Safeguarding Board, which is independent of the county council, to look at this for consideration and Mrs Chambers will be contacted when I receive the Board’s independent response.”
The complaints and responses
Hygiene: The first complaints were raised after Mrs Chambers allegedly found her mother in a “filthy” condition. The council’s safeguarding team carried out an unannounced visit in July 2011, which found the complaint to be “partially substantiated” but said care at the home was “acceptable”.
Injury: When Mrs Pooley broke her hip during a fall on Christmas Eve 2011, her daughter claimed home staff moved her, worsening the injury. The ambulance service confirmed in October 2013, Mrs Pooley “had already been hoisted when crew arrived”, contradicting the home’s claims she had not. A document Mrs Chambers’ solicitors received from the home stated Mrs Pooley had fallen twice that day, rather than once as stated previously. The council’s investigation, published in November 2012, which did not seek evidence from the ambulance service, found no “corroborative evidence that attempts were made to move Mrs Pooley following her fall”. The council’s latest investigation took into account paramedics’ statements but said it was “not possible to say categorically” who had moved her.
Medical evidence: Mrs Chambers claims medical notes stating her mother had bed sores when admitted to hospital, were wrongly overruled as evidence of poor care at the home. A report by Ipswich Hospital staff on January 19, 2012, said Mrs Pooley “was admitted with moisture lesions on her buttocks”. However the council’s investigation dismissed this.
Missing documents: In September 2012, the officer who had been investigating the complaint was asked to send the medical records back to Mrs Chambers. The officer replied saying he “believed” the medical records had been returned “but this is not recorded”. Following further requests, he said he didn’t have them. The council’s latest report admitted “there has been no satisfactory explanation” about the documents’ disappearance.
Sources: Mrs Chambers has complained information from authoritative sources was ignored. She suggested comments from Macmillan nurses, social workers and paramedics would have served better than comments from the home itself. The Local Government Ombudsman’s report published March 2015 said the council “failed to seek third party witnesses and did not fully highlight that the council had not asked the ambulance service for information”.
Cover-up? Mrs Chambers says her main complaint was that the council’s investigation was “delayed and inadequate”. Its latest independent investigation accepts that criticism and questioned “why it has taken so long to secure justice for Mrs Pooley”. However, it also rejected claims “there was a deliberate attempt to cover up what happened”.