20 Jun 2011

Elderly people’s human rights ‘overlooked’ by care system

The basic human rights of older people being given care at home are being overlooked, with some left in bed for 17 hours between visits, according to early findings in a new inquiry.

An elderly man in a wheelchair looks out of a window as a human rights commission inquiry makes

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has revealed it has found many “worrying” cases such as old people not being washed regularly or not being given proper help with eating food or drink.

The commission is currently conducting a major inquiry into home care in England which is due to be published in December. It said it had already identified a number of major problems.

Baroness Sally Greengross, an EHRC commissioner, believes there have never been sufficient resources allocated to this type of care.

Home care visits were just 15 minutes in some cases

“The numbers of people requiring it are going up all the time, so we have to put in more resources and we have to adjust our resource allocation accordingly. Part of this is medical success,” she told the BBC.

“We must get this right, and human rights is a tool that can help us.”

Elderly ‘fear complaining’

So far the investigation has found that staff turnover in the sector is “huge”, with one woman saying she had 32 different carers over a two-week period.

The commission has also found that elderly people are being left in soiled beds and clothing for long periods. But it said there is a fear of complaining, because many do not know how to or believe there would be repercussions.

Home care visits are just 15 minutes in some cases, which does not allow basic essential tasks to be performed properly, leaving people choose between having a cooked meal or a wash, said the report.

Staff have to rush tasks like washing and dressing, leaving them feeling “frustrated and dissatisfied”, while many older people have little or no control over the timing of visits. Some people are put to bed at 5pm and are not helped to get up until 10am the following morning, a gap of 17 hours, the commission found.

Care sector background

• over a million older people receive care and support in their own home. An estimated 173,000 are in residential care
• 81 per cent of publicly funded care is in the independent sector – up from 2 per cent in 1992
• by 2051 there will be 15.8 million people aged 65 years or over, a rise of 91 per cent compared with 2008
• individuals currently spend some £4.2bn annually on privately purchased care, with a further £1.6bn being spent on private top-up care
• an estimated 450,000 older people have shortfalls in their publicly funded care
• an estimated 6,000 older people with high support needs and 275,000 with less intensive needs receive no care at all from state or informal sources

Source: Equality and Human Rights Commission

‘No place for poor quality care’

Lack of privacy was also uncovered, with one old person complaining of being dressed by care staff in front of his bungalow window, and another in front of family members.

“The full extent of the potential human rights breaches is likely to be masked by the fear of complaining and the low expectations about the quality of home care that many older people believe they are entitled to,” said the report, drawn from over 500 submissions from individuals, organisations and home care staff.

“One in five older people who responded to the call for evidence said that they would not complain because they didn’t know how to, or for fear of repercussions.

“In addition, we are exploring what protection and support is in place for whistleblowers who want to expose poor or abusive practices.”

Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said: “There can be no place for poor quality care in care services, either in the home care system or in residential homes.

“The shocking abuses at Winterbourne have thrown into sharp focus how important it is that the dignity and safety of the most vulnerable people in our society are safeguarded.

“We welcome the inquiry, which will help drive up standards of care and expose bad practice. We look forward to seeing the results.”

The findings follow a Channel 4 News investigation into the quality of care at some residential care homes run by the Southern Cross group.

It found that the firm’s financial problems were having an impact on the quality of care at its facilities and that this had been highlighted by the Government’s care home regulator.