Our Public Law Team helped an elderly woman suffering with dementia reunite with her husband in time for Christmas after their contact was limited due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In early 2020, Phoebe* returned to live in the UK after living abroad with her husband , Steve* for many years. She’d recently been diagnosed with dementia and was struggling to cope. Upon her return to the UK, Phoebe's dementia began to worsen and she needed further investigations in hospital.
After a short stay in hospital, Phoebe was moved into ‘step-down’ accommodation for further assessments. Sadly, she had to move again shortly after a coronavirus outbreak at the facility.
Phoebe’s new placement was in a nursing care home, where her mental health began to take a turn for the worse. Being in the care home made her desperately unhappy as she was separated from her husband and she became increasingly distressed.
As the pandemic progressed, Phoebe had less and less contact with her husband. Often their only contact was through a window. Steve would often stand outside in awful weather conditions just to spend time with Phoebe. The couple would sometimes hold hands through the window but the care home eventually put a stop to this too.
Due to the pandemic, the care home then stopped Steve from visiting Phoebe at all. This was devastating for the couple and they could only speak to each other over the phone.
Phoebe didn’t have a mobile so her only contact with Steve was through the care home’s landline. As her time on this phone was limited, Phoebe was becoming increasingly isolated and her mental health rapidly deteriorated.
Helping Phoebe when she needed it most
Due to her dementia, Phoebe lacked the mental capacity to make important decisions about her care and where she lived. The decision to move from hospital into a care home was one such decision. The local authority made the decision that it would be best for Phoebe to move to the nursing care home, even though Phoebe didn’t want to go.
When Phoebe had to stay in the care home, she was deprived of her liberty as she was under supervision at all times and not free to leave the care home. Care homes and local authorities must follow the ‘Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards’ process in circumstances where somebody is deprived of their liberty.
These are a set of rules and procedures designed to make sure that the restrictions on the person’s life are necessary and in the person’s best interests. As part of this process it’s necessary to think about whether there are any less restrictive options available to meet the person’s needs.
In Phoebe’s case, the local authority believed that it was in her best interests to stay in the care home and be deprived of her liberty there because she needed support from care staff 24 hours a day to keep her safe.
Phoebe continued to express a wish to leave the care home and live with her husband. Her husband also wanted this to happen and the couple were increasingly distressed at being kept apart.
Under the safeguards, Phoebe had support from an Independent Mental Capacity Advocate (IMCA) to help represent Phoebe’s views. The advocate disagreed that Phoebe’s deprivation of liberty was in her best interests and felt that it was an infringement of her human rights.
Phoebe’s advocate contacted our Public Law & Human Rights team and asked us to challenge Phoebe’s treatment in the Court of Protection. Public Law & Human Rights Solicitor, Katy Clarke took the case and began the process.
The Court listed a hearing for the challenge in October 2020. In the meantime, Katy began investigating Phoebe’s care, seeking evidence from the local authority.
However, there wasn’t much available information so we requested an urgent assessment of Phoebe’s care and support needs from the local authority. Katy and the advocate also started to look at suitable alternatives for accommodation, working together with her husband, Steve and the local authority.
Coronavirus restrictions meant we could only speak to Phoebe on the phone rather than visit her in person. Between conversations with Phoebe and Steve, we gathered more evidence about Phoebe’s wishes.
Including, how much it would mean to her to be reunited with her husband. Phoebe’s wishes would be a very important factor when the court was deciding what was best for the couple.
Phoebe’s court hearing came in October and the court agreed that a flat the local authority had identified was suitable for Phoebe’s needs. Phoebe would be able to live there with her husband too, as she wanted.
A swift decision was key as Phoebe’s mental health was at risk of deteriorating further the longer she was apart from her husband. The court considered ours and the local authority’s evidence and agreed that it was in Phoebe’s best interests to move in with her husband as soon as possible with a suitable support package from the local authority.
Thanks to Katy’s continued efforts and a collaborative approach with everyone involved, Phoebe was able to spend Christmas with her husband in their own flat and they continue to live there happily. Phoebe was delighted at the decision and being able to be back alongside her husband. Phoebe added, “I’d not seen Steve for so long and it’s lovely to be with him again and finally have a home together.”
If you or someone you know has caring needs and the correct standard of support isn’t being met. Then our Public Law & Human Rights team may be able to help. Please visit our Community Care Solicitors page for more information or call us on 0370 1500 100
*names have been changed
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