An Essex family is warning the public to take greater interest in the care of their loved ones now restrictions on care home visitation are being eased. Since March last year, family and friends’ access had been stopped or severely restricted in a bid to protect residents from Covid-19, but there is alarming evidence that residents have been failed during this time.
The following is Fiona Gowrley’s (Valerie’s daughter-in-law) account of their harrowing journey:
In October 2019, Valerie Gowrley, 77, was discharged from Basildon hospital and admitted to Bluebell Nursing Home in Grays, Essex. Valerie’s medical needs mean that she requires 24-hour nursing care. The location of the home allowed her family to visit regularly prior to the lockdown, with her husband visiting three times a day. When lockdown began in March 2020 these visits were initially completely stopped and then from June 2020 limited to just 20 minutes a fortnight. Sadly, Valerie’s husband unexpectedly died in August, heart-broken at being unable to see his wife of 50 years. With limited access to Valerie, her remaining family were unable to see how Valerie was and specifically whether she was receiving the medical and social care she required.
When Valerie arrived at Bluebell care home, and up until March 2020 the family knew she had one coin-sized pressure sore, but by May 2020 she had developed five pressure sores, three of which were evaluated at the highest, Grade 4 severity. Valerie’s family were not informed about the development of these sores, and it was only in January 2021 when they were allowed a meaningful visit to their mum that they became aware of the extent of the deterioration in her condition. At this point all five sores were severe in nature.
Witnessing Valerie’s immense distress and agony due to these sores, which had developed into deep wounds, was a harrowing experience for the family. Not least because Valerie had totally inadequate and inappropriate pain relief. The family would witness her lying on her bed, continuously moaning in pain whilst lying on sores some of which seemed deep enough to show the underlying bone.
Valerie’s daughter-in-law, Fiona Gowrley, immediately and repeatedly asked for greater pain relief for Valerie and demanded to know more about what the home had done to manage the pressure sores.
Fiona Gowrley said: “Val has dementia and severe leg contractures meaning she was subjected to resting on at least one of the numerous sores she had developed at all times and it was clear that she was in immense pain. The sores on her body were huge and very deep. To leave her in that state without adequate pain relief was in my view tantamount to torture. It is unbelievable that this level of care is being given in England in 2021. Val was also skeletal after considerable and inexcusable weight loss since her arrival at Bluebell care home. My mother-in-law originally weighed 69kg, and within months she was down to 41.7kg. Worryingly this significant weight loss was also not adequately addressed and records from the home have been found to be inaccurate and chaotic.
“As I looked into my mother-in-law’s care, the true extent of her suffering became apparent and I knew that we had no option, in good conscience other than to remove her to a place of safety. Despite a legal power of attorney (“LPA”) being in place, the home did not inform Valerie’s family, including the LPA, of the decline in her health, instead telling us when we phoned regularly to check on Val that she was doing well. Val was finally rescued from Bluebell on February 16th, 2021. In the weeks since Val has left the care home, her sores are healing well, something which we were advised would probably never happen, with some of Valerie’s sores having healed almost completely and the others being downgraded in severity. Val is now gaining weight steadily and most importantly her pain is closely monitored and controlled and she is now comfortable and contented.”
Sasha Paterson (Former Social Worker Manager who is assisting the family) said: “Mrs Gowrley’s case is appalling. She was badly failed by the home, who left her in severe pain, with very serious pressure sores and with very significant weight loss. However, I am most disappointed by the fact that, to date, Thurrock Council and the Police have failed to yet hold anyone accountable for what appears to be wilful neglect and there are many residents still left in this care home almost certainly being nursed by the same team responsible for Mrs Gowrley’s care during her time in Bluebell.
“Sadly, the case is far from an isolated one. We are hearing from many families who’s loved one’s have also suffered awful neglect or abuse in care homes and many councils now appear unable to meet national Safeguarding investigation requirements.”
Fiona added: “We are so happy to see Mum doing much better, but the more I find out about her time at Bluebell, the clearer the neglect appears. Val was let down by the system in place to protect her, allowing her to suffer unbearable pain and an appalling quality of life. Whilst she is safe now, I remain extremely concerned for all of the other residents of Bluebell. I have so far raised my concerns with Thurrock Local Authority Safeguarding, Essex Police and the CQC. However, to date and some five months on these authorities seem unwilling to expedite a full and proper investigation to answer as to why Mum was allowed to suffer as she has and, therefore it seems likely that they haven’t yet adequately ensured that no one else is facing the levels of neglect that she did.
“Shockingly as we’ve connected with other families with loved ones in care homes, we have discovered that stories like Val’s are all too common. The Covid pandemic has only shone a light on the enormity of a failing care system and the important role that families play in monitoring and ensuring their loved ones get the care they need. I implore families with loved ones in care homes to pay close attention and investigate any sign of neglect, no matter how small.”
Due to the exceptional nature of Valerie’s case, Fiona is working with social justice law firm, Hodge Jones & Allen, to investigate the failings.
Priya Singh, Associate, Medical Negligence Team at Hodge Jones & Allen, who is representing the family said: “When families place elderly residents in care, they put a great deal of trust with the provider. It should not be down to the families to check up on professional standards – they should be able to rest assured knowing that their loved ones are safe. Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic appears to have allowed an already struggling care home sector to further deteriorate as families have been shut out of homes and unable to monitor and ensure their loved one’s safety and wellbeing – I urge all families to be vigilant in monitoring the service levels being delivered.”
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