Essex/Suffolk: Woman separated from mentally unwell sister due to ‘maladministration’ by Essex County Council and North Essex Trust
10:08 23 January 2014
Two health trusts plus Essex and Suffolk County Councils have been told to apologise to a woman who was prevented from seeing her mentally unwell sister for three years because of their maladministration.
The woman, known only as Mrs S, was falsely accused of abusing her mentally unwell sister in an Essex care home.
An investigation into whether she was taking money from her sister’s bank account resulted in her being unable to see her sister for three years.
Mrs S said she was made to feel “like a criminal” and the events had “destroyed her relationship with her sister”. As she didn’t know whether her sister is aware of the allegations she fears that her sister thinks she has “just abandoned her”.
A damning report has said North Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and Essex County Council were guilty of maladministration in the case.
The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Trust, as well as Suffolk County Council who funded the woman’s care, were also accused of maladministration in the joint report by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and the Local Government Ombudsman.
Mrs S’s sister, known as Ms P, was living in a residential care home in Clacton on September 2, 2010 when staff at the home raised concerns with Essex County Council that Mrs S had been named as a second person on her vulnerable sister’s bank account.
A second alert with the council raised concerns about emotional abuse of Ms P after she had been persuaded by her sister to change meals.
Mrs S received a letter in mid-October informing her that police were investigating allegations of financial abuse and that an application was being submitted to the Court of Protection for Suffolk County Council to be put in charge of her sister’s finances.
Mrs S was told not to contact her sister while the investigation was ongoing. However it subsequently emerged that neither the police nor the North Essex Trust were investigating the case. Despite this, protective measures remained in place and Mrs S continued to believe she couldn’t contact her sister until December 2011.
An investigation was eventually carried out by a manager at the Norfolk and Suffolk Trust, who found “no evidence to suggest financial exploitation” and that it was “reasonable to infer” that small sums of money withdrawn from the account of Ms P had been used to buy a savings bond for the care home resident.
But in their letter of December 2011, in response to a complaint from Mrs S, the Norfolk and Suffolk Trust said it had been appropriate for the North Essex Trust to implement safeguarding procedures and staff had no choice but to order Mrs S not to visit her sister following concerns that Ms P was being “financially and physically abused”. The reference to physical abuse was later surmised to be a “drafting error”.
In their report the ombudsman bodies found a catalogue of errors in how the case was handled which led to “injustice” for Mrs S.
Essex County Council failed to pass on the safeguarding referral form originally sent to them in September 2010 for four weeks, prolonging the period during which the allegations were hanging over Mrs S.
The decision by the North Essex Trust to tell Mrs S not to visit her sister was “disproportionate” without first finding out whether the police would investigate the claims. Furthermore the action would have been ineffective in any case as Mrs S still had access to at least one of her sister’s bank accounts.
The Norfolk and Suffolk Trust, and therefore Suffolk County Council, were found to have acted with maladministration by agreeing to the protective measures implemented by their counterparts in the North Essex Trust.
The report also said the mishandling of the case meant that Mrs S “did not feel able to contact her sister because of a real and justified fear of further allegations being made against her.” As a result Mrs S was prevented from seeing her sister for three years.
All of the agencies involved have been asked to apologise to Mrs S. Essex County Council and the North Essex Trust have been ordered jointly to pay £1,000 for the distress caused, while the Norfolk and Suffolk Trust and Suffolk County Council have been ordered jointly to pay a total of £500 in redress.