Sheffield City Council at fault for multiple errors in a care assessment and incorrectly commissioning care with a provider previously complained about

Decision Date: 24th November 2020

What happened

Mr X complained on behalf of himself and his wife. 

In November 2019 Mr X asked the Council to help provide support for his wife whilst he had an operation. The operation was scheduled for January/February 2020. 

The Council promptly sent an occupational therapist to visit Mr and Mrs X at home. After this meeting, the Council sent Mr and Mrs X evidence of the meeting and an assessment of the care required. 

Mr X complained to the Council that there were numerous mistakes in the care assessment: 

  • Mrs X’s name was spelt incorrectly, and the assessment named someone else as Mrs X’s husband. 
  • It included a comment about a different service user. 
  • It incorrectly stated Mr and Mrs X had a son, and it stated their daughter could visit regularly to support them which was not the case. 
  • It contained incorrect information about Mrs X’s medication and the wrong GPs surgery.

Mr X also highlighted in his complaint that the Council had mistaken their identity before. In 2017, Care Provider A confused his wife with her Aunt when they had requested care. The care was intended to provide support for when Mr X had to have a knee operation. The operation was cancelled as a result of the mix up. The Council also wrongly rejected Mrs X’s postal vote in 2019. 

Mr X emphasised to the Council that he did not want any care to be provided by Care Provider A. 

A team manager from the Council wrote to Mr X apologising for the mistakes and advised that there would be another OT visit to discuss a bathroom conversion in December. 

On the 13th December the Council arranged for a package of care for Mrs X to start on 20th December. This was arranged with Care Provider A. 

Mr X spoke to the Council on the 17th December to reiterate that he did not want Care Provider A giving any support. The Council cancelled the arranged package the same day. 

Judging from the report, due to a miscommunication Care Provider A called on Mrs X while Mr X was not at home on 19 December. They rang the doorbell, called the home phone and left a message. 

Mr X said this distressed Mrs X, and added this issue to his complaint. 

Mr X told the Council that he did not want to be contacted regarding the pending care package, until his complaint had been responded to. 

The Council responded to Mr X’s complaint on 21 January:

  • It agreed that the assessment it sent in November was way below the standard expected. 
  • It apologised for the anxiety this caused to Mr and Mrs X.
  • It stated that all the information on its systems for Mrs X was correct.
  • It apologised that Care Provider A had contacted them. The Council had cancelled the appointment too late. 

On 24th January, Mr X informed the Council that he had an outpatient appointment for his forthcoming operation and that it would be unlikely the care would be needed until after 11th February. On 3rd February the Council told him that a care agency had been identified, but Mr X made a request for direct payments. 

Following amendments made by the Council, on 18th February Mr X agreed that the support plan was correct and stated he felt confident that a care package would be in place for his shoulder operation.

Care Company B was identified as having availability to meet Mrs X’s lunchtime and evening needs. Mr X wanted to use this agency, but they did not have the availability to meet Mrs X’s early morning needs.

The Council gave Mr X a link to its list of care providers who had achieved its ‘blue recognised provider emblem’. Mr X wanted Care Company B to provide some care, however they were reluctant to split care with another agency because of the practical complications. 

Mr X complained to his MP on 2nd March 2020 that the Council had failed to find a care company. The Council replied the next day stating that Mr X was free to find a provider outside the blue emblem stamp. 

Eventually, Care Company B agreed to provide all care required. 

Unfortunately due to separate health issues and COVID-19, Mr X’s operation was cancelled. This was not as a result of fault by the Council. 

What was found

The LGO stated that the Council was at fault for the multiple errors it made in its assessment report it sent to Mr and Mrs X. This fault led to anxiety and a loss of trust in the Council. However, the LGO stated that this error did not result in any injustice. It was corrected by February 2020, and did not cause the cancellation of any care. 

The Council was also at fault when the Council commissioned Care Provider A for Mrs X after Mr X had explicitly requested otherwise. This communication breakdown led to the care provider attempting to visit Mr and Mrs X, which would not have happened but for the Council’s fault. 

The LGO recommended that the Council pay Mr and Mrs X £100 in recognition of the distress and anxiety its faults caused. 

Points to note for councils, professionals, people using services and their carers, advocacy groups, members of the public. 

It is not surprising that Mr X lost faith in the Council’s ability to provide the care required for his wife when he received an assessment full of errors. The detail was important here. Maybe not for the Council, but for Mrs and Mrs X. It comes over very much as the right hand not knowing what the left had was doing!

The Council fulfilled its Care Act responsibility to send a copy of the assessment to the person; that’s no use if it is full of mistakes. It’s supposed to be an accurate record and ensure that its own records were accurate. For Mr X who had had previous experience of the Council, this must have exacerbated his loss of confidence that the care would be in place at the time of his operation. 

Mr and Mrs X had been clear with the Council that based on previous experience, they did not want provider A. When that company arrived at the home Mrs X was understandably distressed by this and the LGO has ensured this distress was compensated for both with an apology and financially. 

Where a person is unhappy or dissatisfied with the Council’s offer of an agency, they can of course make a request for a direct payment and this seemed to offer a positive alternative to the Council’s commissioning processes for Mr X. The Care and Support statutory guidance states the following:

12.9 Local authorities have a crucial role to play in promoting the use of direct payments, and enabling people to make requests to receive direct payments in an efficient way. However, the gateway to receiving a direct payment must always be through the request from the person. 

Once the request was made, the Council also supported Mr X with some suggestions of agencies that it had already approved of, albeit that the preferred one had no availability for all the visits required for Mrs X. Helpfully this was resolved, but on the whole, this complaint was avoidable, had the Council recorded and communicated effectively. He needed to be told that he could commission the care from any provider of his choice, it is suggested, as that is one of the main benefits of the decision to take on the role of commissioner.

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The full Local Government Ombudsman report of Sheffield City Council’s actions can be found here

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