Council’s Care Bosses Criticised Over Double Tragedy

Social services bosses in Oldham have been criticised after a disabled 81-year-old woman died of thirst while her son lay dead upstairs. The family’s care co-ordinator found the bodies of Clara Schofield and her 58-year-old deaf and mute son George at their Roundthorn home on April 12 last year – the day she was due to discuss a replacement home help after care was withdrawn ten weeks earlier.

An inquest at Oldham Magistrates’ Court heard how George died as a result of a hormone deficiency condition leaving his mother, who was unable to look after herself, alone for up to three weeks.

Speaking after the inquest, George’s brother Trevor claimed that Oldham social services were guilty of neglect and vowed to take the case further.

Mr Schofield, from Tameside, said: “I believe my mother would still be alive if there had been an appropriate package of care in place. At the point when it was withdrawn my mother should have been assessed as being high risk.”

The pair were first referred to social services in July 2004 and were provided with respite help once a day. In December 2004 the Pennine Care NHS Trust-run Community Mental Health team in Failsworth took over responsibility for their care.

Duty officer Shirley Morley-Pickavance first visited them in February 2005, and assessed their needs as non-urgent before arranging an appointment with a psychiatrist the following month.

When Mrs Morley-Pickavance and a colleague could not get into the house for the appointment, they assumed the pair were out and left a letter – unaware the property had a key safe system to be used to gain entry in emergencies.

An anonymous neighbour called the mental health team a week later alleging that George wasn’t caring for Clara adequately, but Mrs Morley-Pickavance was on holiday, and the call wasn’t followed up.

Mrs Morley-Pickavance told the inquest she regarded the family as ‘low risk’.

Home office pathologist Dr John Rutherford was unable to give an exact date as to when George died, although a neighbour claimed to have seen him around April 1. Clara had been dead for less than four days.

Coroner Simon Nelson recorded a verdict of death by natural causes for George, and said Clara “died from a pre-existing, naturally occuring disease process that was probably accelerated following the sudden death of her son and main carer”.

He did not feel the pair had been neglected by the authorities but added that care could have been provided “more expeditiously”.

Paul Davies, from Oldham Council, said: “We would like to express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of George and Clara Schofield. Theirs was a complex and challenging case which highlights the difficulties faced by our health and social care professionals on a daily basis.”