Protecting Our Relatives From Neglect in Care Homes
- AuthorMalcolm Underhill
Last year Edna Slann died a miserable, painful death shortly after entering Grantley Court nursing home in Cheam, south-west London, which has now been closed by orders of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) health watchdog.
Mrs Slann had led a full and happy life according to her children but within weeks of being transferred to Grantley Court, she lost weight dramatically. She also experienced a fall which left her with terrible cuts and bruises and developed a pressure sore on her foot which was left unattended and unreported, and became so bad her leg would have been amputated had she not arrived in hospital in such a weak condition.
Left without food and supervision
Mrs Slann, who worked for the postal service until her retirement, was moved to Grantley Court when the care home she was previously in found they could not provide the intensive care needed to help her cope with severe arthritis.
Although the Grantley Court appeared run down and shabby, social services told the family that their Mother would receive the necessary care and treatment she required.
But when friends and members of Mrs Slann’s family visited her three to four times a week over the following months they began to notice that she was losing weight. Mrs Slann herself complained to her granddaughter Becky, 21, that she would sometimes be left without food for an entire day or longer.
The lack of staff training and supervision became clear in September 2014 when Mrs Slann required ten stitches for a head wound after falling out of her chair. No record of the accident was kept by Grantley Court’s managers – in breach of the most basic procedures – and Mrs Slann’s family believe it probably took place as a result of a member of staff tipping her out of her chair in a clumsy attempt to encourage her to stand up.
Further Examples of Abuse and Neglect
Unfortunately, Mrs Slann’s unacceptable care at Grantley Court is not an isolated incident. With the population aging and more people entering care homes in their twilight years, reports of neglect and even outright abuse of patients by staff members are increasing.
- In April 2014, BBC’s Panorama exposed harrowing abuse in care homes in Essex and South London. Elderly residents were physically assaulted and left in their own excrement for long periods of time. Residents were also subjected to verbal humiliation and abuse by staff members.
- In another Panorama exposé, the nation was shocked to see the extent of verbal and physical abuse meted out to residents with learning disabilities at Winterbourne View, a private hospital at Hambrook, South Gloucestershire. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, stated that he was “appalled” at the level of abuse brought to light by the program’s investigations.
- In February 2016, an aide was charged with two counts of assault after a hidden camera set up by a family member captured her beating an elderly patient at a Hopkins nursing home. Three videos are alleged to show the aide pulling the patient up from the floor by her hair, striking her several times in the head and back with her hand and with a hair brush, as well as elbowing her in the head.
Why are elderly abused and neglected in the very places which are supposed to care and protect them?
When abuse and neglect in a care home comes to light, family members can suffer terrible feelings of guilt. After all, they placed them in a nursing home because they wanted them to receive the best treatment and care available, and when the opposite occurs they naturally blame themselves.
But why are vulnerable, elderly people at risk of such shocking abuse and neglect? The reasons are numerous, but some of the most common include:
- The rise in dementia. Investigations have found that those who suffer from dementia are more prone to abuse and neglect. Dementia cases are increasing. The number of people expected to develop the disease is projected to increase to 75.6 million in 2030 and 135.5 million in 2050 according to the World Health Organisation. Not only are the elderly who suffer from dementia less able to communicate that they are suffering from abuse and/or neglect, but they can also be challenging to care for. Proper training in caring for dementia patients is required to provide appropriate care. Sadly, this is often not given in some care homes.
- Lack of training. Research conducted by Community Care in 2015 found staff working in residential and nursing homes are not being provided with the training they need to support adults with complex needs. The group analysed 300 reports published by the CQC and found training gaps were identified in 71 percent of the care homes who were told to improve their standard of care. The research found examples where the lack of training had resulted in safeguarding concerns not being reported, residents being unlawfully deprived of their liberty, and people with dementia being treated with no empathy or understanding of their care needs.
- Poor pay. Unlike home care providers who have made steps to improve pay and conditions for their workers, many care home providers remain stubbornly committed to paying their staff the minimum wage. According to a report in the Guardian, many are accusing local authorities of not putting enough pressure on care home providers to pay a ‘living wage’. Although a majority of care home workers provide exceptional and empathetic care, there is always a risk of low staff morale and a lack of personal investment in a job that pays very little. Unfortunately, this can lead to a few individuals working in care homes to cut corners and fail to work within proper procedural and reporting guidelines.
The Conservative Government has reacted swiftly and strongly to the issue of care home abuse. With regard to elder abuse, it has recommended that the Department of Health conduct research into the full extent of abuse and neglect suffered by this section of society in care homes. Former Care Minister, Norman Lamb stated in 2014 that the care sector is not “fit for purpose” and there was a "significant lack of corporate accountability for the quality of care".
The issue of abuse and neglect in care homes cannot simply be seen as a legal one. Although the government must legislate to ensure Britain’s care homes are ‘fit for purpose’, one could argue that as a society, we have a moral obligation to protect our most vulnerable citizens from individuals and organisations who may subject them to harm. Therefore, we must all play a part in ensuring cases of abuse come to light, proper pay, conditions and training is provided to care home staff, and victims are not simply dismissed due to their background or mental health.
If you are concerned about a relative
If you are concerned about an elderly relative being harmed in a care home setting then look out for these telltale signs that abuse or neglect may be occurring:
- Unexplained cuts, bruises or broken bones
- Sudden weight loss
- Bed sores
- Changes in behaviour; for example, the individual concerned becomes withdrawn and tearful
At IBB, our personal injury team, led by Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you suspect your relative has suffered from neglect or abuse in a care home. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our contact form. Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence.