A council has been forced to launch an inquiry into the death of a terminally-ill disabled woman, after a public meeting heard how all her personal care had suddenly been withdrawn just a few days before she died.
Portsmouth City Council was shamed into acting after councillors heard how 18 different care agencies withdrew their services from Anne Savidge on 10 December, because of claims that she had been verbally abusive to care workers.
In the following few days, the council appears to have abandoned her without any back-up personal care.
Although Savidge, who had no close relatives, continued to receive healthcare treatment from a district nurse, all the council-funded help she had been receiving with washing, dressing and toileting, and support with food and medication, was withdrawn.
Just six days later, she was rushed to hospital, where she died on 21 December.
The council was confronted with its apparent failings at a public meeting last week by disabled sailor Geoff Holt, a close friend of Savidge, who described her ordeal to city councillors.
Holt has since shown Disability News Service (DNS) an email sent to him by the council’s chief executive, David Williams, two days after his friend’s care was withdrawn and just nine days before she died.
In the email, Williams says that while the council was seeking to resolve the situation, “we cannot always guarantee meeting residents [sic] expectations”.
Williams is now commissioning the inquiry into Savidge’s death, and a spokeswoman for the council has so far failed to explain how that would be appropriate when Holt believes that the chief executive’s actions, and the email he sent, should be a key part of the investigation.
In his presentation to the council, which was discussing its budget for the next financial year, Holt described to councillors how Savidge, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer last October, suddenly had her personal care cut off in December.
He described his friend, who he had known for five years, as “cantankerous, often short-tempered, considered by some to be rude”, but he said she had been given less than a year to live and was “in terrible pain and frightened”.
He said that all 18 care agencies that were contracted to deliver council-funded services in Portsmouth had suddenly withdrawn those services from Savidge, even though she had been assessed by the council as needing two-and-a-half hours of care a day.
DNS has seen an email from a council employee that appears to confirm these facts.
Savidge continued to receive healthcare from a district nurse, who dressed her tumour wound, but no personal care.
Holt said he had received numerous emails and text messages from his friend, begging him for help in the days before she was admitted to hospital.
He and his wife, who lived six miles away, had provided some emergency personal care – even though his wife was recovering from a shoulder operation and he is paraplegic – and Holt had written “in desperation” to the council, her GP, Solent NHS Trust, and to Savidge’s MP, Stephen Morgan, warning them that her life was in danger.
He said: “I was in disbelief Portsmouth City Council had no plan B to provide care.
“Anne sat there, mostly in her wheelchair, for five days, in pain, her bladder tumour now oozing blood on her clothes, no food, frightened to drink because she would wet herself, not even having her hands and face washed.
“She was dehydrated through not drinking, she was toxic with drugs, including morphine, not to mention the toxicity of her cancer.”
He added: “Of course it is not OK to shout or be rude at care workers. But Anne was never physically violent or abusive. And she always said sorry.
“She was dying, she was frightened, she was in pain, she was alone with reduced mental capacity, and she had no one to even come in and fulfil her basic care needs.”
Holt also told the council that an independence support assistant from the council had brought her a leaflet explaining how she could sell her property to pay for residential care.
He told DNS this week that he believed his friend had previously turned down a council suggestion that she move into residential care.
By 12 December, he said, there had been “washing-up growing mould in the sink and soiled clothing and bedding cluttering up her home” and his friend had not washed for days.
Three days later, her GP visited and said she needed to be admitted to the oncology ward at Queen Alexandra Hospital.
Holt told the council meeting: “Adult Services were off the hook, she was no longer a social problem.”
She was admitted to hospital the next morning and died five days later.
Holt told the council that he was convinced that the lack of care “exacerbated and accelerated” the decline in her health.
He added: “I am in no doubt whatsoever Anne’s lack of care over that period was to blame.
“I would go further, I would say it was negligence and I would call upon this council to launch an enquiry into Anne’s death.”
Cllr Donna Jones, leader of the Conservative-led council, immediately agreed that the council should investigate the death.
Holt told DNS that he wanted answers to two questions: how 18 agencies could suddenly withdraw their services from a terminally-ill disabled woman; and why the council did not appear to have had a back-up plan or “safety net” when that happened.
He said he had felt that he owed it to his friend to highlight her case after she died.
He said: “I felt she was let down by the system. We had different disabilities, but I know how much care is important to me and I know the knife-edge that people with disabilities live on with their care.”
Morgan told DNS that he had replied to Holt’s letter and asked if there was anything he could do to help, but by the time he replied she had been admitted to hospital.
The Portsmouth South MP said the claims were “shocking” and added: “I am fully in support of an inquiry into what happened and what lessons can be learned by the city council and other partners.”
He said he did not know much more about the “incredibly tragic incident” than the details passed by Holt to councillors at last week’s meeting.
He said: “As I understand it, 18 different agencies had declined support. It is a concern to me if that is the case. I have said we need a full inquiry.”
Morgan said it was too early to know if Savidge’s death was connected in any way to the country’s social care funding crisis.
But he said: “As a new MP I have been pushing for increased funding for social care in the city and I am really concerned about its future.”
He has been in contact with Portsmouth Disability Forum and is arranging a focus group with disabled people to discover their concerns, including whether they are worried about social care in the city.
A council spokeswoman said in a statement: “At the meeting of full council on Tuesday 13 February 2018, it was agreed that an investigation into the care received by Anne Savidge should take place.
“Cllr Donna Jones, leader of Portsmouth City Council, has asked David Williams, chief executive, to set up an investigation which will be reported back to members of the city council.
“It would be inappropriate to comment until this investigation is complete and the findings have been published.”
She added later: “David Williams has been mandated to commission an appropriate investigation into the circumstances of this case.
“The organisation or individual appointed will decide the scope of the investigation and will actually deliver the work involved.”
Solent NHS Trust confirmed today (Thursday) that Anne Savidge had been one of its patients.
A spokesman added: “It is inappropriate for us to comment until the investigation is complete and the findings have been published.
“For now, we can only add that we are fully cooperating with the Portsmouth City Council-led investigation.”
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com