Died 4th February 2013

Gloria Foster (81) died in her home in Banstead, Surrey, on 4th February 2013 after being left, without medication, to starve and dehydrate for nine days after the care agency she used was closed down and Surrey Council failed to assist her. She was found dangerously dehydrated, with severe bed sores, kidney failure and only a faint pulse. She was discovered by chance by a district nurse on 24th January 2013 and rushed to Epsom Hospital where she died.

The care agency Carefirst 24, contracted by Surrey Council, had been visiting Ms Foster four times a day to provide food, medication and water. The company was raided and six people arrested on 15th January as a result of allegations they had been employing illegal immigrants under the identities of former workers. Surrey County Council and Sutton Council contracted work to the agency and alternative arrangements were supposed to have been made for all those affected.  On the day the raids took place, Surrey County Council was given a list of all the agency’s clients and contact details by the Metropolitan Police. The police have confirmed that Ms Foster was included on that list. The UK Border Agency said it warned the council of plans to shut Carefirst24. Despite these warnings, Surrey Council failed to provide alternative arrangements for Ms Foster’s care. The Council has since launched an investigation.

Ms Foster had previously worked as a secretary and loved the theatre and classical music.  She had no children. Her husband Bob, an accountant, died in a car crash in Saudi Arabia about 30 years ago.

Her friend Ann Penston, who had her power of attorney, believes that she should have been contacted. “None of us expect to go out of this world singing and dancing, but you do not expect to be left in what I suspect was agony,” said Ms Penston, adding “In the early days, she must have been aware that there was nobody coming and not been able to do anything about it.” Ms Penston said she paid all Mrs Foster’s bills under the power of attorney and was listed as an emergency contact on Carefirst24’s files. She said: “I am angry and would like answers. I hope there will be a comprehensive inquiry.”

Ms Penston paid tribute to Ms Foster. She said: “She was a big woman, 5ft 10in or 6ft, and she would throw her head back and laugh. She always had this twinkle in her eye. She loved music, she had lots of classical music, she played bridge, golf bowls, she conversation and she liked to go to the theatre. She became ill and the quality of her life was not brilliant but she did not deserve to go out like this – in agony with a total feeling of being lost. She had got to the stage of dozing during the day and I suspect when no-one turned up she just dozed through. She was on 14 or more tablets during the day. When that was taken away, with dementia, she would not know if it was day or night and would just have been lying there. I can’t imagine how she was feeling.”

She said that until they were raided Ms Foster had always received good care from the company. Ms Penston added: “I can’t understand how this has been allowed to happen. I don’t know why they did not check to make sure everything was OK.” She said “She deserves for somebody to answer for her going this way.” She said “Carefirst would always communicate with me if there was anything that needed to be done, but there were no messages left for me,” she said, adding “One must assume that somebody picked up a bundle of papers and missed a vital piece of information.”

Jo Wood, Ms Foster’s god-daughter, said: “Can you imagine just lying there not being able to move for nine days? It must have been horrific. What happened to her is simply unforgivable.”

Ms Foster’s MP, Conservative Crispin Blunt, described her ordeal as “horrific”. He said: “Clearly there are questions to answer and I would expect a comprehensive investigation between all of the agencies involved.” Paul Burstow, Liberal Democrat MP for Sutton and Cheam, said the council needed to get to the bottom of why its procedures did not work properly.

The care register shows that Ms Foster last received care on 15th January. The nurse wrote that she gave Ms Foster spaghetti bolognese and fruit juice. She also wrote that she put on the washing machine and left Mrs Foster watching TV. Ms Foster was found at home on 24th January with her walking frame out of reach in the lounge. The washing which the nurse placed inside the machine was still inside.

Surrey Police and Surrey Safeguarding Adults Board are both investigating Ms Foster’s death. A Surrey Council spokesperson said: “We’re very sad to hear about Mrs Foster’s death, and our thoughts are with her family and friends at this difficult time. The safety of vulnerable adults is our top priority, which is why this tragic event is already being urgently looked at by the Surrey Safeguarding Adults Board.”

Members of the Surrey Safeguarding Adults Board include the county council, NHS Surrey, the 11 district and borough councils in Surrey and voluntary sector organisations such as Mencap, the Surrey Coalition of Service Users and Action for Carers

The Local Government Ombudsman will carry out a review if the Board’s investigation is deemed insufficient.

Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General at Age UK, said: “Time and again we hear heartbreaking and shocking stories of older people who are being let down by the care system. Older people who struggle daily with chronic ill health, frailty and disability should have the peace of mind that they will be well cared for in times of need.”

The police and the UK Border Agency raided Carefirst 24. The UKBA held at least one meeting with both Surrey County Council and Sutton in the week before the raid.

A spokesperson said: “The meeting was to make everyone aware of the fact that the raid was coming up and to give them the opportunity to provide alternative care. During the raid we handed over to police a list of clients found in the office. The police met the councils and the Care Quality Commission to go through that list.”

Note: This report was drawn from reports in the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the BBC.