"I failed" Burnt out social worker admits her mistake left pensioner to starve to death

Gloria Foster was found on her bed

Gloria Foster was found on her bed

First published in London News
Last updated
This Is Local London: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Reporter

A social worker with 20 years' experience has admitted that she "failed" pensioner Gloria Foster because she was depressed and finding it difficult to cope with her workload.

Elizabeth Egan, a senior practitioner for Surrey's adults care team at the time of the Banstead pensioner's death, said she had been suffering from burn out.

She told the inquest this afternoon she regretted saying she would organise alternative care arrangements for clients when Care1st24, based in Sutton, was raided by immigration officers and shut down on January 15 last year.

An inquest into Mrs Foster’s death heard on Monday how Mrs Foster was found near death from dehydration and starvation by a district nurse who visited her home in Priory Court, Chipstead Road, Banstead, on January 24.

Mrs Foster, 81, who had been suffering from dementia, depression, and was heavily dependent on external care, died in Epsom Hospital on February 4.

Giving evidence  at Woking Borough Council's civic offices Mrs Egan said: "I didn't think about it much, unfortunately I respond too much without thinking.

"In hindsight, I should have said 'no' as I wasn't in a fit state to take on any extra work. I hadn't been coping for a while.

"I have been suffering from depression for a few years now and was on medication at the time.

"I think I was reaching the point of a burn-out.

"The culture in the team was very much 'just do it and get on with it'."

Mrs Egan added: "For some time I was finding myself being really forgetful and not being able to speak properly as I felt my head was spinning.

"But I was still trying to hold the job down. I failed."

She told the coroner the Surrey adult social care team knew that she was taking medication and she said she had told her manager, Jane Giles, two weeks before that she “wasn’t coping”.

She said that, having looked at Mrs Foster's file, she saw she was being visited by carers four times a day but was not aware the pensioner had dementia.

Mrs Egan said: "I tried to ring the lady. I didn't get any reply.

"I didn't follow it up.

"I failed. I don't think I was even thinking straight anymore. There was too much happening.

"The bottom line is that I failed. I made a mistake."

She said that in the days that followed she "sat back mentally" and "somehow I just blotted it out of my mind and left it".

Mrs Egan said: "There is a bit of an assumption about self-funders which is wrong and I think I made that as well - that they can manage their own care or have help from someone else to arrange it."

She told coroner Richard Travers: "I made a mistake and hold my hands up to it completely but I don't think I was thinking straight anyway so perhaps I shouldn't have been at work, but sometimes you just have to get on with things."

Following a police investigation into the issue last year, the police said it found no record of the call Mrs Egan said she made.

When asked about this at today's inquest by Surrey County Council's lawyer, Mrs Egan said: "I don't know how I can explain that. Whether I pressed the wrong digit, I did that many times.

"I made a call. Unless I rung it wrong."

Also giving evidence at the inquest Ms Giles, who was the locality team manager for Reigate and Banstead at Surrey Adult Social Care at the time, said she had delegated the task of making alternative care arrangements for clients, including Mrs Foster, to Mrs Egan, who she said had volunteered for the task.

She said Mrs Egan said the task was "in hand" and "under progress" when asked about it and Ms Giles admitted she did not seek further, specific, details about the alternative care arrangements.

Ms Giles told the court: "It was work that had been carried out before and I trusted Mrs Egan's feedback.

"It was work we regularly undertook and Mrs Egan had always done work before. "She was a trusted member of the team.

"I think that under the pressure of the workload within the whole team that, right the way down from senior management, we took assumptions on what was happening and there was no clear loop for feedback.

"We all took the assumptions and that's where it went wrong and that was because of the context everyone was working in at the time."

When asked at the inquest by Surrey County Council's lawyer whether "it was your job to ensure that Mrs Egan did her job properly", Ms Giles agreed.

The inquest is expected to last another day but a judgment from the coroner is not expected until next week.

Comments (5)

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1:22am Fri 5 Sep 14

EpsomBornAndBred says...

Why is it that whenever the media reports news relating to Social Services, whether it be nationally or locally, we read about yet more stupidity and incompetence?
Why is it that whenever the media reports news relating to Social Services, whether it be nationally or locally, we read about yet more stupidity and incompetence? EpsomBornAndBred
  • Score: 4

9:11pm Fri 5 Sep 14

imasumak says...

One would think that an agency with such a critical responsibility and duty of care to people unable to maintain themselves would be run with Military Operational care to detail and duties. It is horrendous to think that the killing of people is more effectively and efficiently carried out than keeping than caring for the elderly disabled. She was "Burnt Out" and known by her supervisor to be so. She should not have been allowed to continue working until she had be restored to operational fitness.
This was a case of gross neglect and incompetence.
One would think that an agency with such a critical responsibility and duty of care to people unable to maintain themselves would be run with Military Operational care to detail and duties. It is horrendous to think that the killing of people is more effectively and efficiently carried out than keeping than caring for the elderly disabled. She was "Burnt Out" and known by her supervisor to be so. She should not have been allowed to continue working until she had be restored to operational fitness. This was a case of gross neglect and incompetence. imasumak
  • Score: 3

12:37pm Sat 6 Sep 14

Ann hollowell says...

It makes me sick, the social worker is trying to play the victim. The only victim is poor mrs foster who died a very traumatic and totally avoidable death. The people responsible should be in jail.
It makes me sick, the social worker is trying to play the victim. The only victim is poor mrs foster who died a very traumatic and totally avoidable death. The people responsible should be in jail. Ann hollowell
  • Score: 1

8:23pm Sat 6 Sep 14

Kier001 says...

A very tragic, sad and wholly avoidable death. The unfortunate reality, whether people agree or not, is that social services, for both children and adults, are at breaking point. Horrendous caseloads effectively dictate that it is more by luck than judgement that deaths are not much more commonplace. When our society, and the political system that supports it, values the welfare of our vulnerable people as highly as it does its banking institutions we may find we have sufficient staff and resources to actually prevent such tragedies.
A very tragic, sad and wholly avoidable death. The unfortunate reality, whether people agree or not, is that social services, for both children and adults, are at breaking point. Horrendous caseloads effectively dictate that it is more by luck than judgement that deaths are not much more commonplace. When our society, and the political system that supports it, values the welfare of our vulnerable people as highly as it does its banking institutions we may find we have sufficient staff and resources to actually prevent such tragedies. Kier001
  • Score: -1

12:52pm Sun 7 Sep 14

Ann hollowell says...

I work in the care industry and to blame the bankers ect is a cop out. We are often short staffed, and on a lot less money than social workers. The difference is we have a passion for our job and treat our elderly with the compassion,dignity and respect' they richly deserve. Our team often go way above what our care home managers expect of us. Because we care !.
I work in the care industry and to blame the bankers ect is a cop out. We are often short staffed, and on a lot less money than social workers. The difference is we have a passion for our job and treat our elderly with the compassion,dignity and respect' they richly deserve. Our team often go way above what our care home managers expect of us. Because we care !. Ann hollowell
  • Score: 0
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