On Wednesday this paper became aware of a case of woeful mismanagement in its duty of care for a member of the community by local doctors and social services.
We received a message from a desperate elderly person who is immobile due to arthritis in both hips, one of which is due to be operated on soon, who was unsure of where else to turn having endured weeks of phone calls attempting to get the help they urgently need.
When we entered the property to listen to their story, the scene that greeted us was far beyond what was anticipated.
Rubbish was piled high from wall to wall due to the occupant being unable to tidy up or put rubbish out, presenting a clear fire hazard. They were sat in their armchair, living amongst the mess, with exits from the property blocked or impeded – a further fire risk.
Perhaps most disturbingly, the property was infested with flies, requiring constant waving of the hand across the face to keep them at bay. The occupant had them crawling all over them.
We were also informed that although the occupant is running dangerously short of essential food and supplies, a visit from social services was not due for five days.
We immediately called local and district councillor Mr Stuchbury, who dutifully arrived at the property within ten minutes. What followed was a series of phone calls that bore witness to a chain of incompetence, rudeness, and a broken system that should shock and concern the whole town.
Over 58 minutes, 14 minutes of which were spent on hold, we spoke to five different people, were transferred three times, hit three answer phones and were directed towards seven organisations (The GP Surgery, Elderly Care, Prevention Matters, Occupational Therapy, Adult Social Care Team, CR&R and Duty Social Work Team) who formed a perfect loop, each directing us towards another without taking appropriate action.
Heartbreakingly, while these calls were taking place, the occupant exclaimed through tears of frustration:
“I never used to live like this – I just want my home back.”
18 minutes later we finally received a return phone call from Adult Social Care, which lasted two minutes, arranging a visit from a social worker the following morning.
Thus in total, precisely one hour on the phone was required, to a total of six different people, to get the emergency assistance required.
The work was performed by this reporter and Councillor Stuchbury. Clearly, an elderly, frightened and vulnerable person living on their own would find it impossible to penetrate this inscrutible system.
Of the many bizarre responses we received to our pleas for help, the following from The Swan Practice at Verney Close is notable for all but ignoring the plight of their patient and instead choosing to indirectly address this paper. They said to the occupant when she answered her phone:
“We have spoken to the management here and they have said that we cannot and will not comment and they will speak directly with you at some point.”
When pressed, no timescales were given as to when help might be at hand.
This paper believes that no one in the community, or anywhere, should end up in the situation we encountered this week, but feels the process we experienced makes it all too likely.
Councillor Stuchbury provided the following statement:
"It is clearly evident that not everyone is reactive and proactive and it is distressing when you see a vulnerable person seeking help when they have limited ability to obtain that help. I am hoping now that they get the help they need because the alternative is not something I want to think about."
We have forwarded our concerns, with the photographs, to Adult Social Care at Bucks County Council. Here is their comment:
"We are unable to comment on individual cases. However, the council always works to assess and respond to individual needs in accordance with statutory frameworks and prioritises the support it gives to those people with the greatest level of need.
In any such cases we would continue to work with the individual affected alongside our partner organisations, to ensure we reach the best outcome for them."
How many more people will need to suffer the fate outlined above, or worse, before something changes?