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The Telegraph
The Telegraph
15 Apr 2023


David Poole moved into the now-closed HC-One home The Elms in Peterborough in September 2018
David Poole moved into the now-closed HC-One home The Elms in Peterborough in September 2018 Credit: The Telegraph/David Rose

A council blamed coronavirus for wrongly sending debt collectors to pursue a widow for care fees for a home where her late husband was neglected.

Jeanne Poole was left traumatised after Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) officials turned up on her doorstep to demand money three years after her husband, David Poole, had died.

Mr Poole, who had Parkinson’s and dementia, moved into the now-closed HC-One home The Elms in Peterborough in September 2018.

He and two other residents, Margaret Canham and George Lowlett, died within weeks of each other in 2019 after they were all admitted to hospital having developed sepsis.

Mr Poole had kidney failure, impacted bowels and was malnourished when he was admitted on 18 Feb, 2019. He was discharged to another care home and died on 24 March.

Jeanne Poole began raising concerns about the HC-One home in January 2019
Jeanne Poole began raising concerns about the HC-One home in January 2019 Credit: The Telegraph/David Rose

In 2019 Mrs Poole received a letter chasing outstanding fees totalling £6,488. She wrote to them three times to explain her husband had fully-funded care covered by the NHS but she did not hear back.

Mrs Poole said she was waiting for a delivery on 19 Jan, 2022 when she opened the door “to a man standing there with an ID round his neck and papers in his hands”.

She told The Telegraph: “He checked who I was and said he’d come because there was a debt outstanding from David’s care fees.

“I was shocked and frightened and became tearful and didn’t know what to say. I’d just had the payment from the council and it seemed to me they were paying it on one hand and collecting it on the other. It was appalling and disgraceful behaviour.

“It stayed with me; I increased security and was scared to answer the door. It was very upsetting. It was just awful.”

Mrs Poole said it was “remarkable timing” as the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) had recently ordered the authority to pay Mrs Poole £5,000 for “serious failings” in her husband’s care.

Communication had ‘failed’ 

In a letter to Mrs Poole, the council said communication between the teams had “failed”.

It said there was a “backlog” of debt cases the recovery team had been working on, which was “in part due to a hold that was placed on outstanding debt due to Covid-19” and “further compounded due to staffing constraints within their team”.

The 37-bed home closed down last year after a damning Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspection found it to be “inadequate” and residents “were not safe and were at risk of avoidable harm”.

Inquests into the deaths of Mr Poole, Mrs Canham and Mr Lowlett were held last month. Coroner Caroline Jones said Mr Poole’s care was not “safe and effective” in his final days at the home.

Mrs Poole and other residents began raising concerns about the HC-One home in January 2019.

The court heard there were inaccuracies and omissions to Mr Poole’s medical records and his medicine was not always administered properly.

Lying in urine and faeces

Mrs Poole said when she visited her husband she often found him lying in urine and faeces.

The LGSCO found there were “clear failings on part of the council” in relation to Mr Poole’s care in a report published in September 2021. Although a dietician had advised Mr Poole should weigh 63kg, by January 2019 his weight had fallen to 47kg.

Transcripts from a conversation between a nurse and a 111-call handler about Mr Poole show the call handler raised a safeguarding concern about the nurse who did not know how to find out if Mr Poole was breathing.

The council last year suspended all admissions to HC-One homes, which it has said will remain for a further 12 months. 

Cambridgeshire County Council said: “A letter of apology was sent to Mrs Poole in March 2022, in which the council acknowledged clear failings on behalf of the authority in sending a debt-recovery officer to her home. The officer also personally apologised to Mrs Poole for any distress caused. We assured Mrs Poole that communications between the council’s social care teams and finance teams had improved as a result, and offered her an agreed settlement in recognition of the impact this situation had on her.”

‘Deeply concerned’

Following inquests into the deaths of Mrs Canham, Mr Lowlett and Mr Poole, the council said it remained “deeply concerned” by the quality of care by HC-One and requested the coroner make a Prevention of Future Deaths report in relation to the provider.

A spokesperson for HC-One said it is “deeply sorry” for the failings at The Elms. 

They said the company has new management in place across Cambridgeshire and is working to make improvements. 

It recently received a “good” CQC rating at one of its Cambridgeshire homes.