By Simon Wilson, medical negligence expert and senior solicitor at Neil Hudgell Solicitors
A New Year it may be, but unfortunately 2015 has started with yet more headlines of elderly care home patients being physically abused by staff.
In the latest case, reported in the Hull Daily Mail, elderly resident Edna Buxton was placed in a headlock before having her head pulled back by carer Tracey Wilkinson, in a dispute over a pen.
The incident happened at Longhill House residential home in east Hull, where Mrs Buxton, who suffered from dementia, was a resident.
Hull Magistrates Court heard how 49-year-old Wilkinson, an experienced carer who had worked at the home for 11 years, had also grabbed Mrs Buxton on another occasion, “yanking” her from her chair.
She had also grabbed hold of an elderly man who also suffered from dementia and verbally abused him. Colleagues who witnessed the abuse reported her to the police as a result.
Wilkinson was handed a 12-week prison sentence, suspended for a year, after pleading guilty to two counts of carer ill-treatment and willfully neglecting a person without capacity.
Unfortunately, this is just the latest of an increasing number of cases relating to care home abuse or neglect making the headlines.
And through our work at Neil Hudgell Solicitors, we handle claims for families in many more similar cases, ranging from care home residents being physically and verbally abused to simply being left to suffer through substandard care.
In all cases, not only are the residents themselves left hurt and scared by the actions of their abusers, but their families are left heart-broken too.
They feel guilty for allowing their loved ones to be subjected to such abuse in the very home they selected when seeking the best care.
The solicitor defending Wilkinson suggested low staffing levels had placed her under extra pressure and stress at the time of the incidents, whilst also expressing her complete remorse and regret.
However, as the sentencing judge said, “no residents should fall victim because of somebody’s own stress and frustration.”
Key lessons must, of course, be learned from this case.
Firstly, the judge was quite right. There can never be any excuse for lashing out. Caring for elderly people, many of whom suffer from conditions such as dementia and can be aggressive themselves, is a difficult and highly demanding job. It can only be carried out by people who are fully qualified to do so, but just as importantly, people who truly care.
For care homes, there is duty of care to both residents and their own members of staff. They need to ensure staffing levels are appropriate to meet demand and provide residents with the very best care. Carers must also have all the support needed to carry out their work to the highest of standards, whilst closely monitoring their performance at all times.
And finally, as in all of these cases, there is a warning to all families with loved ones in care to be aware themselves, and to look for signs of poor care.
In a case such as this, where the abuse was not sustained, that can be difficult.
However, if you fear they are being a victim of any form of abuse, be it through signs of fearfulness, bruises or malnourishment and dehydration, you should not delay and should raise the issue immediately with the care home management.
If that does not alleviate your concerns then a report to the Care Quality Commission may be necessary, as well as seeking legal advice.
If you are unsure as to what to do in these circumstances, call us on 0808 231 7987 for free, sympathetic advice as to the options available.