Ipswich woman lived in squalor

STAFF shortages meant no one from social services were able to visit an Ipswich woman despite two referrals during the months before she died, an inquest has heard.

STAFF shortages meant no one from social services was able to visit an Ipswich woman despite two referrals during the months before she died, an inquest has heard.

Caroline Stevenson was found dead in her Beaconsfield Road home last year.

The 60-year-old librarian had a schizophrenic condition which caused her to live in squalor, neglect herself and retreat from the outside world.

An inquest into her death revealed that, although social services knew about her problems, nobody had been to Miss Stevenson's home to assess her needs.

Liz Johnson, senior practitioner social worker, told the inquest that letters had been sent to Miss Stevenson asking about her welfare but when the woman, who had a history of refusing help, did not reply, no follow-up was attempted.

Mrs Johnson said: “Because her schizophrenia was long-standing and she had disengaged with the mental health team I had to prioritise what else was going on.”

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She said that at the time her department had 78 people, including Miss Stevenson, waiting for assessments and the Customer First Team was short staffed due to sickness and unfilled job vacancies.

She said: “We were a team that was struggling at the time.”

The inquest heard that Miss Stevenson's sister Jennifer Hicks had contacted Miss Stevenson's GP, Dr David Ward, voicing her concerns after Miss Stevenson excluded her family from helping her.

The court heard that Miss Stevenson had stopped taking medication for her mental health and only attended the doctor's surgery when she decided to.

When Pc Alastair Scott visited Miss Stevenson on April 3 last year, he sent a referral form to social services stating that Miss Stevenson looked in poor health, her legs were swollen and cut, there were piles of cigarette butts in the living room and dirty utensils and mouldy food on plates in the kitchen and the living conditions were “disgusting”.

Mrs Johnson said many people choose to live in squalor and there is nothing that can be done to force them into accepting care.

Greater Suffolk Coroner Dr Peter Dean heard that the post-mortem on Miss Stevenson was inconclusive and no cause of death could be determined.

He recorded an open verdict.

Dr Dean said he said he expected the Suffolk County Council agencies to have learned lessons from what had transpired at the inquest and make changes to prevent any repeat problems.