Peter Handley with daughter Sara, who said: ‘I was screaming at them’
Published: 2 February, 2017
By WILLIAM McLENNAN
A GRIEVING daughter has said she was told by a telephone care-line operator they had just spoken to her elderly father, when in fact he was lying dead on the floor of his sheltered housing flat.
Peter Handley’s daughter Sara rushed to his council-run home in Belsize Park when he did not answer his phone. With no staff in sight, she was forced to press an intercom service that connects to a call centre in Eastbourne, East Sussex.
In a “hysterical” state, she pleaded with the operator to be let into her 82-year-old father’s home to check on his wellbeing at around 1pm on December 18. She said: “I was hysterical by now. [The operator] said: ‘Hold on a minute’ and went away. She came back and said: ‘I’ve just spoken to Peter. He’s trying to open the door.’
“She said she was sending the mobile response unit, but a good 15 minutes later I’m still screaming through his door. So I went into the common room and we managed to break a little lock on the door. Lucky enough the back door was unlocked. I opened the door and I could see that his bed was empty, then I see him lying in the toilet and I just went ballistic.”
The private firm Welbeing is employed by Camden Council to run an emergency helpline at the sheltered housing block. Each flat is installed with a speaker and microphone, which can be accessed only by call centre staff.
Ms Handley, 56, said that the mobile response unit arrived at the home a short time later, adding: “I was screaming at them, telling them that she’d told me he was alive. They just kept saying sorry. At that time I thought that 15 minutes before he was alive and if I got in there I could have done something and got an ambulance. But it wasn’t the case. He’d been dead hours.”
She added: “I was screaming. I fell down on my knees. I was sick outside the back door, vomiting everywhere because I had such a shock. It was terrible.”
She called for changes to be made to the way phone-line staff are trained, adding: “I want them to change the way they operate. I don’t want to be reading stories like this all the time. It’s elderly people, people’s mums and dads. You can’t do that.”
Paying tribute to her father, who moved to sheltered housing from his home in Gospel Oak two years ago, she said: “He was terribly independent. He used to like to go out for a couple of pints. Everybody knew him. He was a character.”
A Camden Council spokesman said: “Our call-handling service has carried out a full investigation and has begun disciplinary proceedings. We are extremely sorry for the distress caused to the family.”
A spokeswoman for Welbeing said: “A full investigation found the initial call was answered within 50 seconds. The operator’s manner was professional and protocols regarding access to the property were correctly followed.
“When our operator used the telecare system to call Mr Handley, she believed she heard a noise and mistook this for movement. Regrettably, she relayed this to Mr Handley’s daughter.
“We are sorry for the distress this mistake caused. The matter has been dealt within our internal disciplinary procedures and we have since reviewed our training for operators.”