Figures in a new study published in Nursing Times today will make truly shocking reading for many, as 88 per cent of staff questioned in a survey admitted to having witnessed or suspected abuse in nursing or care homes they have worked at.
Sadly though, as a solicitor who handles many care home abuse and neglect compensation claims on behalf of families, I have to say that although the findings of this study sadden me, they are not figures which truly shock me.
Many people consider abuse to be a physical attack on somebody, something which would be clear to relatives of elderly residents when visiting their loved ones, such as visible cuts and bruises.
However, the reality is that psychological abuse and neglect can be just as damaging, and appears much more common, with a lesser rate of detection.
When elderly and vulnerable patients are intimidated, made to feel inadequate and stripped of their dignity by staff members, it amounts to nothing but outright bullying.
Neglect, such as failing to give residents drinks, leaving them sat in their own urine, not giving them food or not providing the required medical care, can often be missed by families, as it happens behind closed doors, and little evidence can be called upon unless someone at the home speaks out.
Research highlights lack of detection when elderly are abused in homes
In this survey of 156 staff members, employed at five newly-opened homes in four local authority regions in England, psychological abuse was the most common type staff reported seeing.
This was followed by neglect and then physical abuse, based on the questionnaires completed between 2011 and 2015.
The research paper said as abuse in care homes takes place behind closed doors – due to the intimate nature of care – and often at night, detection by authorities is difficult.
This suggests many care homes and staff are being allowed to get away with mistreatment and are evading detection completely.
The paper added that in some cases ‘qualified nurses’ at the ‘highest level of management’ may sometimes have been active or complicit in the abuse – bringing into question the integrity of internal investigations when complaints are made.
Government admits CCTV works, and thousands support its use in care homes
In conclusion, researchers say abuse of older people in nursing homes will continue unless ‘new, and likely costlier, techniques of governance and regulation that look beyond appearance’ are introduced – and surely the only new technique which can solve these issues is CCTV use?
It is something we campaigned for as part of our Love Our Vulnerable and Elderly (LOVE) campaign last year, which called for care and nursing home residents to be loved, protected and respected in care, and for their dignity to be protected at all times.
Former Big Brother finalist Jayne Connery is currently leading a similar campaign after her mother suffered from abuse in care, with more than 10,000 people signing her petition calling for CCTV to be installed in all dementia care homes by law.
So far, the Government response, to both our campaign and to that of Ms Connery, has been to say it is not something currently being considered, as it would ‘raise important concerns about residents’ privacy, as well as practicality’
However, it has admitted that the use of CCTV should be considered on a case by case basis, and that it does not object to its use in individual care homes, or by the families of residents, provided it is done in consultation with and with the permission of those residents and their families.
Could providing rooms with CCTV become compulsory for care homes?
Herein surely lies the opportunity to make a real positive difference, by perhaps making it compulsory for homes to provide a set number of rooms where families can opt for 24-hour CCTV surveillance, perhaps even at a higher cost than other facilities.
It has always been our belief that cameras would be there not only to catch those subjecting the elderly to abuse and neglect, but also to act as a deterrent, help drive up standards and prevent such cases from happening.
When we surveyed people about the issue, 8 in 10 said they’d welcome cameras being used 24 hours a day if they helped protect their loved ones from abuse.
Steve Moore, commissioner of care and nursing home services at Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, who wrote the paper, said the ‘findings suggest the abuse of older people continues to occur and evade detection’.
Surely, the Government can no longer point to ‘privacy and practicality’ as the reason for allowing such abuse to continue.
People should be given the choice of cameras to protect their loved ones, and action needs taking to make this a reality as soon as possible.