By Stuart Hanley, medical negligence specialist at Neil Hudgell Solicitors.
The UK population is aging. As a result most of us will at some point have dealings with care homes, whether receiving care ourselves or taking the difficult decision to place a much-loved relative in a home. People are moved to care homes because they are unable to look after themselves. Most care home residents require 24 hour care so belong to one of the most vulnerable groups in our society.
However, in some cases residents do not receive the care that they deserve. Luckily, through the campaigning of public figures such as Fiona Phillips, this is becoming more recognised.
Neil Hudgell Solicitors are increasingly being instructed to pursue claims against care homes, and themes are emerging.
It seems to be accepted that elderly people who are immobile will develop pressure ulcers. This should not be the case. With advances in technology and simple measures, such as regular repositioning, 95 % of pressure ulcers are avoidable. Therefore, in the vast majority of cases, they are the result of negligent care.
The healing of these sores and other wounds can be delayed by malnutrition and dehydration, conditions which can also lead to other health problems. One of the main complaints is that carers do not assist their patients to eat and drink. For example, it is not uncommon to hear of carers placing meals out of reach of immobile patients.
This has also been a complaint when it comes to dispensing medication. The tablets may be dispensed and placed in front of the patient, but no assistance is given to the patient to actually take the tablets. Medication is not prescribed if it is not necessary, and if the patient is not given their medication over a period of time it can result in deteriorating health. This can have devastating effects.
One of the most distressing things a relative can witness is to see the patient with bruises. Bruising can be the result of poor moving and handling, or something more sinister. As one of the more visual effects of poor or even abusive handling, bruising can be most difficult to bear for relatives.
Conversely, the least visual abuse can take the form of carers shouting and threatening their patients. Often, this is only picked up because relatives notice that the patient has become frightened. The concerns may not be acted on immediately, particularly if the patient has dementia or a similar illness as they may be judged as being delusional.
There are very many good care homes. However, it must be recognised that often staff are poorly trained and supervised. As a result bad practice can become common. To improve care in the UK the profile of cases of neglect needs to be raised to force change to those practices.