Elderly Care: Neglected at home

Posted on: 22 June 2011 by Alexander Hay

Home care for the elderly requires urgent reform

Alone, or the elderly may as well be

At a glance, it seems there has been a victory of sorts in the field of care for the elderly. Certainly, the closure of the now notorious Winterbourne View care home showed that the sort of place that neglects and abuses the vulnerable, including the elderly, simply won't be tolerated any more.

Elsewhere, the Local Government Ombudsman has found against Bristol City Council in its treatment of one elderly care home resident, left alone in a dark, silent room with dirty bedclothes. The council was forced to cover the cost of the woman's relocation and generally made an example of.

And yet, little has changed. Apart from the dismal news of elderly patients been given tambourines so they can summon nurses, a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission has revealed an equally shocking culture of neglect, this time in regards to the care the elderly who stay at home receive. Left dirty, underfed and ignored, these vulnerable older people also have to endure a never-ending procession of different carers, treated without dignity or much in the way of care at all.

As The Daily Mail reports, little has changed since a BBC investigation in 2009, when two undercover journalists exposed much the same neglect and poor levels of staff training - in one case, barely four hours' worth.

And as OlderIsWiser's director, Baronness Sally Greengross, argued, there needs to be a fundamental rethink of how home care is funded and provided.

“This is an interim report that is the result of the evidence we've been receiving” she said. “Some of its findings come from care workers and employees who are concerned that care simply isn't good enough for frail and elderly people.

“Primarily, there are too few staff, who are often rushed, and can only spare 15 minutes per visit. This means they have to make awful choices, such as having to choose whether to cook food for their patient, wash them or help them with their toiletry needs as they don't have the time to do it all. Sometimes there are real infringements of dignity, such as elderly people being undressed in front of a window or their families.

“There are also cases of poor practice where people are put to bed at 5pm in the evening and only checked on again at 10am the following morning. Needless to say, this does infantilise a lot of old people.

How is the issue to be resolved? Baronness Greengross believes investment in both resources and staff is key to resolving the issue. “I would say that home care needs to be remedied by much more funding, and also training in regards to the Human Rights Act. That would enable carers to put themselves in the place of the person they are caring for, and make sure they have some participation in society, even if it is just by talking to them regularly.”

And as Baroness Greengross concludes, such measures would save us all money and a lot of suffering. “This would ensure sufficient care for those living at home and it would also save money, as these older people would not end up in hospital or in a home as they would be much healthier.”

Whether that will be the end result of this scandal, or a retreat back into the bad old ways is open to question. What is certain is that there are elderly and vulnerable people out there who need more than 15 minutes' attention.

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Alexander Hay

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