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Elderly woman was ‘left to die alone’ in Surrey care home

Ombudsman

An elderly woman was left to die alone by care home staff while her daughter was waiting in a nearby room, according to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

Surrey County Council agreed to apologise to the woman’s daughter and make a symbolic payment of £500 following the tragic event that took place in a Bupa care home in August 2019.

The daughter had complained she had been called too late to the home, which had been commissioned for her mother by the council, when her condition deteriorated.

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When she arrived she was left in a waiting area and was told her mother was suffering with breathing difficulties and had a headache. She said she was not told her mother was seriously ill and care workers were running around and the nurse ignored her.

When the daughter went into her mother’s room 15 minutes later, she found dried blood on the floor and oxygen pipes in her mother’s nose. It was apparent her mother had died, but nobody had prepared her for this.

The agency nurse looking after her mother told paramedics who attended what had happened, but never spoke to the daughter or offered her any sympathy.

A coroner’s inquest later found the woman had passed away from a brain haemorrhage.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Nobody should be left to find their mother in this way when they could have been prepared for the situation. But I cannot imagine the distress caused for this to then be compounded by a lack of compassion by care staff in the immediate aftermath.

“The council has already gone some way to investigating the daughter’s complaints, and I hope the further recommendations I have made should ensure that relatives are better considered when loved ones are receiving end of life care.”

A Surrey County Council spokesperson said: “This should not have happened and we’re very sorry to the family involved for the distress this has caused them.

“We have fully accepted all the Ombudsman’s findings and apologised to the family, as well as making a payment. We’ve worked with the care provider to make sure they always have enough qualified staff on duty and we’re regularly monitoring that. We’re also making sure the provider gives all care staff training in communication skills around bereavement.

“Over and above that, we’re making sure this case informs our wider working with private and independent care providers to ensure that end of life care is always handled with the sensitivity and professionalism it deserves. Our thoughts and sympathies remain with the family following their loss.”

Bupa said the nurse on duty had been employed by an agency and had not worked at the home since the incident. The care operator said a number of new staff had been appointed at the home since the incident including an experienced Clinical Services Manager who provided clinical support for nurses at the home. Bupa said it now employed “minimal” agency staff and those who were employed had a full understanding of the home and residents.

Linda Marks, Regional Director for the care home, said: “This was an isolated incident and doesn’t reflect current practices at the home. We pride ourselves on high standards but fell short in this instance, and have sincerely apologised to the family.”

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