Judge rules for common sense above procedure

Britain's most senior family judge says that the social services need to focus less on procedures and take a "common sense" approach when placing older couples in residential care.

Sir James Munby, head of the family court, has advised members of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) to think carefully before recommending that an older person is separated from their beloved family, home and possessions. Above all, he said, their wishes to stay together must be taken into consideration.

Sir James who is, himself, due to retire next year, says he feels a "personal outrage" at the "inhumanity" of separating couples who have spent decades together.

Broken heart syndrome, or stress cardiomyopathy, is acknowledged as a real condition caused by shock such as bereavement or separation in which the left ventricle changes shape, weakening the heart muscle. Normally survivable, it can be fatal in elderly people or those with a pre-existing heart condition.

This was borne out in a 2014 study which found that the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke was double in the month following the death of a loved-one.

Margaret Willcox, president of ADASS, said social workers worked hard to keep couples together if that was what they wanted but added that it wasn't necessarily straightforward.

"There are always complex issues to consider, such as how to make this work where relationships are abusive, or when one person in the couple has needs the other can't cope with," she said.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: "In some cases partners may have different care needs but except in rare situations couples who want to stay together should be allowed to so.

"When councils arrange care for an older person they have a legal duty to ensure it meets their needs. They have to take into account their psychological needs, as well as how any arrangements will respect their right to family life under the Human Rights Act."