By Simon Wilson, medical negligence expert and senior solicitor at Neil Hudgell Solicitors
IMAGINE the worry.
You visit an elderly relative in a care home, but leave with a nagging doubt that something isn’t quite right, and that perhaps, they are being mistreated.
It is something nobody ever wants to contemplate, as when we take the difficult decision of placing a loved one in care, we do so in the belief and hope that they will be well looked after and respected.
Unfortunately, it has been proven that this is not always the case, and once doubt over the quality of care a loved one is receiving creeps into the mind, it is unlikely to ever go away.
Inevitably, as a result, there have been many well-documented cases in which people have turned to secret filming in UK care homes, and in a worrying number of cases, their worst fears have been confirmed, with some shocking treatment uncovered.
On a positive note, the actions of those families, and the resulting footage they have secured, has led to court sentences being handed out to the perpetrators. Care home operators have also been held responsible, and ultimately the residents involved have received better care.
To reach such a state of worry, where secret filming seems the only option left, must be horrendous, but it is an entirely understandable reaction, as families will quite rightly do all they can to stop their loved ones being mistreated.
However, an area of concern has to be that extensive media coverage cases has also somewhat presented a slightly distorted view of overall care in the UK.
The vast majority of homes provide an excellent service, led by dedicated, caring staff who do their all to make residents feel comfortable and happy.
Yet, in a survey carried out on our behalf, two thirds of people said they would not trust care home staff to provide a safe and adequate service to an elderly relative.
It may be controversial move to issue guidance on how to secretly film care home treatment – and will no doubt bring complaints of yet another ‘Big Brother’ society – but the growing mistrust of care homes will surely only lead to more people turning to secret surveillance.
Therefore it is to be hoped that the information provided by The Care Quality Commission (CQC) later this month provides effective, sensible advice, ensuring relatives know what the issues are that they need to take into account before turning detective.
In my work as a medical negligence specialist at Neil Hudgell Solicitors, I have seen first-hand how important it is for family members to look out for their relatives and to question their care.
In one case, staff at a care home were caught on camera physically and verbally abusing 89-year-old Ivy Robinson after her family captured five days of abuse on a hidden camera. Mrs Robinson was assaulted and neglected, with video footage showing her being dragged across a room, making her scream in pain, and being threatened with violence.
Her family had repeatedly asked questions of their mother’s care, and raised concerns, and turned to secret surveillance as a last resort.
Often, it’s not something obvious, but a subtle change of behaviour in a resident can be a sign of neglect. Bruises can be the result of poor moving and handling, or something more sinister, whilst any signs of fearfulness could be as a result of shouting and threatening behaviour by those who care for them.
Other examples of neglect may be a failure to administer medication – something which can have a devastating impact – or pressure ulcers developing as a result of a lack of movement and turning.
Family instinct, close observation, the questioning of care, and often a gut feeling over the welfare of a relative is usually enough to spot signs of poor care, but for there to be a change for the better, care home operators need to be more open and honest too.
They must commit to ensuring high standards of care are maintained, and fully investigate all complaints by relatives around the care of their relatives, taking action against any carer who falls below the expected standard of care.
As long as care homes cover up examples of poor care and neglect, families will go under-cover to get their answers. So for now, providing advice on how to do that, seems a sensible move.