Council wrongly charged woman for mother’s care home

An Essex council wrongly charged a woman for her mother’s care home after she was discharged from hospital to make room for coronavirus patients, a local government watchdog has found.

Essex County Council has since waived the charge for admitting “Mrs M”, who has dementia, to a care home under the Government’s “discharge to access” guidance in March 2020 when Britain went into its first national lockdown.

According to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, the NHS was supposed to pay for out-of-hospital care needed by patients who had been discharged under the measures.

In September 2021, the ombudsman found the county council at fault for charging Mrs M’s daughter, referred to as “Ms X” in a report, for her placement but said there was no fault in the authority’s actions when it sent her to the care home.

The county council told the ombudsman the charges were waived “as a gesture of goodwill, and because of the challenging time of these discharge arrangements”, according to the report.

A spokesperson for Essex County Council said in a statement: “We have acknowledged and accepted the findings of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the recommendations contained in the report.

“We remain dedicated to ensuring all our residents receive the highest quality of care and are committed to learning to improve.”

The manager of the care home, referred to as “Home C” in the report, emailed the county council during April 2020 saying there had been over 30 incidents involving Mrs M attacking staff and other residents in the Dementia Suite.

According to the report, Mrs X claimed her mother’s health deteriorated because she was placed in a care home which she felt could not meet her needs.

The council told the Ombudsman it acted with fault by not telling Ms X that Mrs M would be discharged to Home C, the report continues.

Mrs M collapsed at home in March 2020 and was admitted to hospital, but was discharged from hospital under the emergency procedures later that month.

The procedures required all patients to be discharged who were clinically ready to leave hospital, either at home or to a place of care. Care homes were sourced by local councils but funded by the NHS.

In May, a social worker recorded details of a phone call with Ms X where she was informed the emergency placement would end on June 10. After this, her mother would have to arrange and fund her care.

According to the report, Mrs M went back to hospital on June 2 because of an infection that was not covid-19, but Home C would not take her back without a negative coronavirus test result.

As a result, she went to another care home on June 6 under the emergency measures.

The county council then invoiced Ms X for her mother’s care while she was at Home C, which Ms X refused to pay because she said Mrs M had been discharged under the emergency procedures, the report continues.

The county council responded by saying the care had been a “planned process” and did not fall under the emergency procedure guidance. Ms X then complained to the Ombudsman.

Mrs M is currently staying in the new care home.

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Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter