Suffolk County Council and Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Trust criticised over delays in abuse investigation

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Suffolk County Council and Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust have been ordered to apologise to a woman who was falsly accused of abusing her sister while she was being looked after in an Essex care home.

A report by the Local Government Ombudsman released today says that the woman was left feeling ‘like a criminal’ and unable to see her sister for three years due to delays in the investigation into allegations of abuse.

The woman’s sister, who has mental health problems, lives in a care home in an area covered by Essex County Council and the North Esses Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. Her care is funded by Suffolk County Council. Suffolk’s role and that of Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Trust, which employed the community pyschiatric nurse who contacted the police, were investigated.

The woman complained to the Ombudsmnan that she had received a letter from the Norfolk and Suffolk Trust in October 2010 telling her she was under police investigation and that she should not contact her sister or her care home. But when she contacted police, officers were not aware of any investigation.

The report says that the woman says she does not know whether her sister is aware of the allegations and worries that she might think that she has ‘just abandoned her’. She says that the events have destroyed her relationship with her sister.

She was accused of removing money from her sister’s bank account and emotional abuse by care workers

The matter was investigated by the Local Government Ombudsman and Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman who have ordered both Suffolk organisations to apologise and pay £250 jointly for distress caused and a further £250 jointly for their poor complaint handling,

They are also tasked to prepare an action plan showing what they have learned and what they plan to do to ensure these mistakes do not happen again.

Dr Jane Martin, LGO Ombudsman, said: “The poor standards of this investigation, the delays and lack of communication have caused an avoidable rift in this family. The woman involved in the complaint feels she is nbo longer able to visit her sister and the investigation has created a mistrust on the part of the woman and her sister’s carers.

“While I have no doubt the safeguarding alert was well intentioned, this case should serve as a reminder of the need for sensitivity and good communication when investigati8ng delicate issues.”

She has ordered the Essex organisations to jointly pay £1,000 for the distress caused, apologise and also prepare action plans.

A statement from Suffolk County Council said today: “ The county council accepts the Local Government and Health Service Ombudsman’s findings and takes its responsibilities seriously.

“We are actively working with our partners in this matter to ensure a similar situation does not happen again.

“We of course regret the distress caused to the individuals concerned and are writing, jointly with our partners, to apologise.”

Dr Jane Sayer, Director of Nursing, Quality and Patient Safety at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We welcomed the joint report from the Local Government Ombudsman and Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman as it highlighted to us several areas for improvement in our complaints procedure.”

She continued: “In accordance with the findings of the report, we will be compensating Mrs S and offering a full apology. Since the merger in 2012 of Suffolk Mental Health Partnership and Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, we have strengthened our complaints procedures and we are confident that this sort of incident is unlikely to happen again.”