SANDWELL Council has apologised after a woman suffered significant hair, diet and skin problems when a nursing home the local authority placed her in failed to meet her cultural needs.

The woman’s family complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman that despite her care plan stating she needed specialist hair and skin care, and also Caribbean meals prepared for her,  the care home - Newbury Manor in Oldbury - did not do so.

As a result of this and other caring concerns, the family said she was left with hair loss, and also lost weight.

A safeguarding enquiry carried out by the council partially upheld their concerns; particularly that the food provided did not meet the standards recommended by the woman’s speech and language therapist.

The care home agreed further steps to meet the woman’s needs including that her hair be combed out, oiled and plaited, that it would use hair products as directed by her daughters and it would moisturise her skin after personal care.

Despite this the family reported further concerns to the council, including that the woman’s hair was damaged because of neglect and her food contained lumps, despite her being assessed as needing a pureed diet.

The home’s own care notes indicated that hair oil and moisturiser were only applied on 29 days during the woman’s 20-month stay – just four per cent of the time she was there.

The Ombudsman’s report found the care plan developed for the woman by the council failed to take account of her individual rights in line with the requirements of the Equalities Act. It also found the council did not do enough to establish the woman’s cultural needs when formalising her care plan. The report said had the home done so, it is likely the facility would not have accepted her placement and she would have been offered a different provider.

The Ombudsman concluded the woman did not always get the care she needed at the home.

Paul Najsarek, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Families often face an incredibly tough decision to place a loved one in a nursing home, so it’s vital that relatives know they will receive good quality care that meets their needs, and specific cultural requirements are critical to that.

“Councils must have care services available that reflect the people they serve. So I am concerned that the council says it has no care providers that can meet the cultural needs of people like the woman in this case. This is worrying given the particularly diverse range of backgrounds of people living in Sandwell.

“I welcome the council’s agreement to develop a strategy to improve the services it provides to all communities living in Sandwell.”

The council agreed to apologise to the family and reimburse 20 per cent of the contributed care fees they paid, along with £1,000 to the woman to acknowledge the distress caused and a further £500 to the family.

The council will also write to the care provider to ensure it is aware of Care Quality Commission guidance on how to meet the fundamental standards of care and it will remind its staff of the guidance.

The local authority has also agreed to develop a strategy to detail how it intends to meet the cultural needs of people living in its area.

A Sandwell Council spokesperson said: “We fully accept the Ombudsman’s decision that the high standards we expect and the resident’s cultural needs were not met in this case.

“We have apologised to both the resident and her family and will put in place all measures that the Ombudsman has recommended.

“We have written to care providers and relevant staff to ensure they are aware of the statutory guidance which says care plans should be built holistically around people’s wishes and feelings, their needs and values, and we will undertake regular audits to make sure that this is the case.

"We will communicate with families to ensure expectations are realistic and are managed appropriately.

“We are proud to be an ethnically diverse borough so are in the process of developing a strategy detailing how we intend to work with the care market to meet the cultural needs of people living in Sandwell.”

A spokesperson for Superior Care, which runs Newbury Manor, said of the Ombudsman’s findings: “As an award-winning Sandwell business - with five-star ratings given consistently by the families of those in our care - we are sorry that this case prompted such unhappiness.

“Our residents come to us from many communities, and our caring, dedicated staff are from an array of cultures and ethnic backgrounds, including many who are British African-Caribbean.

“We happily provide for a diverse array of needs and are rated good by the Care Quality Commission, but this was a distinctive case.”

The spokesperson said the Ombudsman’s decision “characterizes Newbury Manor unfairly in asserting absence of dignified care” and added: “Nothing matters more to us than the dignity and well-being of our residents, and the testimonies of a great many relatives demonstrate this.”

Superior Care stressed the report “makes it clear that no fault was found by clinicians or other professionals with the nursing home in relation to Mrs Z’s fingernail health, claims of ongoing pain from pressure sores, or hair loss”.