Council promises 'never again' after splitting couple of 59 years

Promises of ‘never again’ have been made by council figures after an elderly couple who were married for 59 years were split up on the council’s watch.

At an adults, children and health overview and scrutiny panel on Wednesday, councillors and officers expressed deep regret at the findings of a Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman report published in August, which found the council was at fault for their care of ‘Mr and Mrs Y’, who were separated in 2018 after 59 years of marriage while under the council’s care.

Mr Y was made to live on his own, and collapsed and died in his home in May 2018 while a care worker was present. Mrs Y has also since passed away.

The report also found that the council did not adequately deal with the complaints and concerns of the now-late couple’s son.

Speaking at the meeting, Hilary Hall, director of adults, health and commissioning apologised to the couple’s family. She said: “Nothing that I can say will ever change or right what happened to the family, the test for me is would this have been good enough for my mum and dad. The unequivocal answer is no.

“On behalf of the service and the council, I offer my sincere heartfelt apology and unreservedly apologise to the family. What I am committed to is ensuring this doesn’t happen again.”

The panel members were given documents explaining what the council will do in response to failings.

As well as apologising to the couple’s son and daughter (Mr X and Ms Z), both will be paid £750 each for the distress caused by separating the couple. Mr X will also be paid a further £500 for the time and trouble he was caused in raising the complaints.

The council has also committed to reviewing any cases where couples are separated by their care needs, ensuring risk and human rights are considered for both parties.

A better mechanism for following up on complaints about poor practice will be put in place, and in cases where complaints against multiple agencies are made, they will be handled with a coordinated response.

The panel was informed that the council was caring for 27 couples in similar circumstances to Mr and Mrs Y, 20 per cent of whom were separated, but were assured that they are always able to contact each other.

Michael Murphy, Royal Borough deputy director of adult services, said: “We are making sure that they can have contact, part of the dynamic of this is we are moving people who, with the best will in the world, can’t stay in the same location.

“We’d made efforts to ensure that people could keep in contact. If they can’t remain in the same locale, we ensure that we assist people in maintaining contact.”

The members of the panel unanimously approved the report, which will go before cabinet later this month.

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