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Council put saving money before needs of autistic woman who had never spent a night alone, watchdog finds

PUBLISHED: 14:06 18 September 2019 | UPDATED: 14:06 18 September 2019

Norfolk County Council's headquarters at County Hall in Norwich. Pic: Neil Perry.

Norfolk County Council's headquarters at County Hall in Norwich. Pic: Neil Perry.

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Saving money was put before the care needs of a woman with Asperger's and mental health issues, a watchdog has concluded.

James Bullion, director of adult social services at Norfolk County Council apologised to Mrs X and Ms Y. Picture Norfolk County CouncilJames Bullion, director of adult social services at Norfolk County Council apologised to Mrs X and Ms Y. Picture Norfolk County Council

Norfolk County Council acted unlawfully when it withdrew night support for the 55-year-old woman, who had never spent a night alone in her life, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found.

A complaint was lodged to the ombudsman on behalf of the woman, known as Ms Y, by a woman referred to as Mrs X.

Ms Y lived at home, but had regular support from three carers, including night support where the carer would stay from 10pm until 8am. Her mother had died.

She had obsessive compulsive disorder, which led to her repeatedly turning lights on and off, constantly checking doors and windows were locked, washing her hands again and again and repetitively flushing the toilet.

But, last year, the council started to explore removing the night-time service. On August 6, a social worker told her manager Ms Y had not made any progress in four years and they needed to take "a more proactive approach" to reducing day and night support.

That was 22 days before an assessment of Ms Y's needs was carried out.

Ms Y's GP wrote to the council to say it was his opinion her anxiety and panic attacks would worsen if left alone at night.

But the council proposed a phased reduction of the night support. Mrs X complained to the council and to the ombudsman.

Upholding her complaint, the ombudsman said the council failed "on a number of levels to act in accordance with the Care Act".

They said: "The newly allocated social worker made an introductory visit to Ms Y in August 2018. It is clear from the records she was already focused on the night support, and discussed the possibility of reducing it, even though no assessment of Ms Y's needs had been completed at this point. This was not person-centred, it was service led."

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The social worker told Mrs X there would likely be changes to Ms Y's care package twenty-two days before she completed an assessment of Ms Y.

"It appears the social worker and her manager had clear intentions to reduce the care package regardless of the assessment.

"Ms Y's needs were not central to the assessment, cutting her care package was."

They said: "Had Mrs X not pursued her complaint with the ombudsman I have no doubt Ms Y would have been left with an unsuitable support package that did not genuinely involve her views on what is needed, and is clearly not the person-centred model that is required by the Care Act."

The ombudsman said the way the council acted suggested "its decisions were resource led, not needs led".

The council was told to apologise, to commission an assessment of Ms Y's care needs, to draw up a support plan and pay Mrs X £250.

And it was ordered to ensure officers act in accordance with the Care Act and consider the training needs of officers completing or overseeing needs assessments under the Care Act.

A Norfolk County Council spokeswoman said: "This is one of a series of historic cases that we've worked to resolve.

"The council fully accepts the decision of the ombudsman in this case and has taken the necessary actions, including a personal apology from our director of adult social services to Mrs X and Ms Y for the distress caused to them.

Financial compensation has also been made to Mrs X in recognition of the time and trouble that she took in pursuing this matter.

"A new care and support plan has been developed with Ms Y, and we have ensured that all reasonable steps have been taken to meet her needs.

"In line with the council's practice, the learning from this case is being shared through a series of meetings with care staff."

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