Review said 'unduly light touch reviewing process' meant the social care department failed to notice Samuel Alexander had died
A serious case review into Buckinghamshire council's care of a 70-year-old man with multiple healthcare needs has highlighted the tragic consequences of failing to keep a close check on direct payments.
Samuel Alexander had been receiving direct payments for over two years when he was murdered by his son and supposed carer, Mark. The son was convicted of the killing in September 2010, seven months after his father's body was found under concrete in the garden of his house in the village of Drayton Parslow, near Bletchley.
The review makes clear that problems had been building for some time. Yet Buckinghamshire's adult social care department continued to make direct payments throughout ? amounting to ?900 a month by the end. And despite the fact that its last contact with Samuel Alexander was in August 2009, the payments continued until February the next year, when his body was discovered.
The review is highly critical of the council's "unduly light touch reviewing process, captured via vague and arms-length recording", with social workers' role reduced to "administrative approval".
Alexander, a retired university lecturer, is described as a "complex" character with multiple healthcare needs, including heart problems, ulcerative colitis and rheumatism. However, he received little more than a "passive and remote" degree of social work oversight. Although he was being funded for four personal assistants, there was no evidence that they ever existed. The son continued to access the funds after his father's death, and it is not known what happened to the money.
The review suggests that the system set up to administer direct payments was overburdened, with only six staff administering 700 direct payment clients. It wonders how it will cope when numbers increase further, and suggests the failings may reflect naivety, inexperience, a lack of healthy professional scepticism or "targets to keep the numbers of direct payment recipients climbing forever upwards".
Buckinghamshire council says that lessons had been learned from the events, and many changes introduced, even before the report was published.
"The direct payment scheme is a real success story and we cannot allow this one tragedy to cloud the benefits of this scheme," insists Patricia Birchley, Buckinghamshire's cabinet member for health and wellbeing. "The fact is, there's yet to be devised a benefit payment system which is fraud-proof. But we do remain vigilant and will not hesitate to take decisive action if misuse of public money is discovered."