Doncaster Council accused of failing to properly investigate care failings allegations after elderly woman breaks hip

Doncaster Council has been accused of failing to adequately investigate serious allegations about a series of potential care failings regarding an elderly woman who suffered a broken hip in a fall.

Concerns have been raised about Doncaster Council's handling of a complaint made under its whistleblowing procedure.

Michael McGrath raised a series of allegations regarding concerns about the care of his mother, who has Alzheimer’s and is aged in her 80s, to the council in November 2020 under the local authority’s whistleblowing process.

It followed an incident in February 2020 where she had a fall in her home which resulted in a broken hip and led to spells in hospital and a care home before her son went to live with her when she was discharged in October 2020. The council has subsequently admitted a bed sensor which was supposed to help raise the alarm in event of a fall had been moved and did not go off.

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Mr McGrath said the council had failed to answer questions about whether his mother had also been locked in her home by carers without legal authority to do so when the incident occurred.

Doncaster Council has today defended its “very robust” process for dealing with complaints but has said it is “not appropriate” to comment on the case. Mr McGrath has now reported his concerns to South Yorkshire Police, who have confirmed its “enquiries are ongoing” into the matter.

Mr McGrath initially reported his concerns about the incident under the council’s whistleblowing process, which is open to citizens as well as council employees. The policy states the council aims to take “all appropriate measures” to protect vulnerable people and is focused on concerns about potential wrongdoing.

Under the policy, whistleblowing complaints can be investigated internally; be referred to an external auditor, the police or form the subject of an independent inquiry.

He wanted the matter to be dealt with under the policy because of those potential investigatory powers rather than under its more limited complaints procedure.

In February, he received a letter from Phil Holmes, the council’s director of adults’ health and wellbeing, which stated the matter had been dealt with as a complaint and a “thorough investigation” had been undertaken.

The response from Mr Holmes summarised Mr McGrath’s concern as being that “his mother was locked in her house by council carers and during this time she fell and broke her hip which has caused a huge decline in her health and mobility and resulted in a hospital admission and care home stay”.

It added that he had “expressed this was a deprivation of his mother’s liberties and the situation that occurred was never addressed by the council and he believes it to be a criminal act”.

The council response to the allegations states that a best interest meeting had identified that when she was alone in her property, “the door would be locked and she would have no access to the keys”.

It added that a social worker was given legal advice to apply for a community Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards order and adds that four meetings took place about this issue between June and November 2019.

The letter adds that the outcome of each meeting concluded the woman lacked capacity and “the procedures necessary for the application of a Deprivation of Liberty Safeguarding had been commenced”.

Mr McGrath said that the council’s response failed to confirm whether any such legal order was actually ever made by the Court of Protection. He said he had made further enquiries with the council and been told that the only Deprivation of Liberty application made in relation to his mother had been done by a care home in April 2020 and had been rejected.

The Government website states in relation to Deprivation of Liberty orders and the Court of Protection: “If the person who lacks mental capacity doesn’t live in a care home or hospital but is being deprived of their liberty, you must apply to the court to get an order authorising the restriction of their freedom.”

The Court of Protection’s official directions on how to seek such an order state that applicants must ensure they consult “anyone engaged in caring for the person or interested in his or her welfare” before making any such application.

Mr McGrath said: “I certainly was never informed. If someone had told me earlier of these problems, I would have gone to live with her at the time.”

The letter from Mr Holmes added that an investigation found the bed sensor “had been moved without consultation, against prior advice that had been issued”.

Mr McGrath said that the letter does not explain whether any investigation took place into who moved the device and why and what action, if any, was taken as a result of this situation.

He added that he made allegations about the potential reasons for this in his original November 2020 call to the council but they do not appear to have been considered as part of the complaints procedure.

He said he also raised concerns that several sensors - not just the bed one - had been moved but again this does not appear to have been taken into account.

In addition to being disappointed his concerns had not been dealt with under the whistleblowing policy, Mr McGrath said there were several other unusual features in regards to the information contained within the letter.

The letter stated that he had initially raised his concerns through an email to customer services.

He said he had never sent such an email to the council and has on several occasions asked for a copy of it to be sent to him but no copy had yet been forthcoming.

Mr McGrath said he was also puzzled by one section of the letter which claimed he had raised concerns regarding the exchange of palliative care paperwork between Doncaster Royal Infirmary and the care home his mother stayed in. The letter from Mr Holmes said: “Investigations have shown you are correct on the above points.”

He said this did not make sense to him as it was not a matter he had ever raised with the council.

He has been advised by the council that he can take his concerns to the second phase of their complaints process and if he remains unhappy, he could raise the matter with the Local Government Ombudsman.

But Mr McGrath said he feels that engaging with the complaints process in this way would prevent the matter from being dealt with as a whistleblowing matter in future.

He said his situation raises wider concerns about the council’s whistleblowing process following a council meeting last October which noted the low number of whistleblowing disclosures recorded in Doncaster compared to other neighbouring local councils. Just three were recorded in a full year.

Mr McGrath said: “I’m concerned about the whole way they are operating the whistleblowing policy. I tried to ring up as a member of the public having studied the document online.

“Firstly it put me through to a general receptionist then a different department and then finally you get to the top of the pyramid. But it is supposed to be anonymous and if you were a council employee, if you have to go through all these people they will know who you are.

“At the council meeting last year they were asking why Doncaster’s whistleblowing figures were so low. Well the people I spoke to didn’t have a clue about it.

“If you do get through to the later stages and do make a full disclosure, you are then told it doesn’t fall under the whistleblowing policy.

“The reason Doncaster Council’s whistleblowing numbers are so woefully low compared to the rest of Yorkshire is because they don’t really give anyone the chance to use it. What is the point of having one on that basis?”

The Yorkshire Post asked Doncaster Council a series of specific questions about the case; including why it had been treated as a complaint instead of through the whistleblowing process; why the letter sent to Mr McGrath included information he said he had never provided to the council; whether a Deprivation of Liberty legal order was in place and whether any investigation into who had moved the bed sensor and the reasons for doing so had taken place.

In response to these individual questions, Doncaster Council sent a statement from Phil Holmes, Director of Adults Health and Wellbeing.

It said: “It’s really important we listen to and learn from complaints. Our complaints process enables people to ask for a further investigation if they are unhappy with the initial outcome. If a complainant is still unsatisfied at this point, they are able to contact the Local Government Ombudsman who will carry out their own independent enquiry and can compel the Council to take action in line with any findings.

“It’s not appropriate to comment publicly on this individual case, but the above process is very robust, as it should be to ensure that concerns are addressed and people receive the right standards of care and support.”

A spokesperson for South Yorkshire Police said: “Police received a report at around 3pm on Friday June 4 of a concern for safety for a woman in her 80s.

“Officers attended the address and spoke to the woman and her family. Enquiries are ongoing.”

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