Home care for the elderly ‘well below acceptable standards’

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Home care for the elderly ‘well below acceptable standards’

21st June 2011

A human rights expert has conveyed his dismay after an inquiry by The Equality and Human Rights Commission into home care for the elderly identified what it called ‘major problems’ in the home care system. 

Mark McGhee, an expert in human rights legislation for Fentons Solicitors LLP, said: “The findings of this inquiry have exposed serious and deplorable levels of neglect in the home care system that cannot be tolerated. Quality of care inevitably falls well below acceptable standards when the basic human rights of the elderly are simply not properly addressed or respected and in turn are violated.” 

The inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission - which investigated how well elderly people receiving home care visits were being looked after in England - uncovered a lack of respect for their dignity and need for privacy as well as worrying cases of neglect, all of which raises compliance issues with basic human rights. 

The Commission’s full report - which will be published in November - found cases of older people being left in bed for over 17 hours between care visits and carers failing to even regularly bathe those in their care. Such issues raise serious concerns as to compliance with Articles 3, 5 and 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998. 

“It is tremendously upsetting to hear cases of this kind,” said Mark. “We are supposed to live in a civilised society. To hear examples of elderly people being left clad in filthy nightwear and bedding after a homecare visit - with some left without even having had their bodies or hair washed for several weeks - is an absolute disgrace, but regrettably in my experience - not uncommon. 

“Unbelievably, home care visits are often so brief that older people are faced with choosing between either having a cooked meal or a wash,” added Mark. “To subject anyone, let alone someone who is old and vulnerable, to the highly demeaning choice between eating or washing in this day and age is frankly nothing short of disgusting. The brevity of these visits mean staff are having to rush tasks like washing and dressing. The detrimental effects of this kind of attitude to somebody’s care are huge. To see oneself as a burden, to be treated as an annoying chore that needs completing as soon as possible by carers very much relied upon, not only to bathe and clothe them but crucially, to provide them with some form of human contact each week - must be extremely depressing at best and horribly degrading at worst.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission gathered evidence for its inquiry by carrying out surveys with local authorities, primary care trusts and home care providers. Fifty-four per cent of local authorities completed the survey, as did 250 home care providers in England. Five-hundred written submissions from older people and their families were read as well as 101 from home care staff. One in five older people who responded to the commission's request for evidence said they would not normally complain because they did not know how to, or shockingly - because they feared repercussions. 

“It is absolutely heartbreaking to hear that those already having to endure such levels of neglect and indignity are afraid to complain or ‘be seen to be making a fuss’ in case the supposed care they are given may in some way be jeopardised as a result, however such is not uncommon in my experience,” said Mark. "Despite assurances made by both the previous and current government, basic human rights to dignity, respect and autonomy are still being flagrantly abused and ignored. 

“The indignity and emotional impact involved with being washed and dressed by large numbers of people, who are essentially strangers week in week out, cannot be underestimated,” added Mark. “High staff turnover amongst care workers mean elderly people are required to repeatedly disclose highly intimate and personal details each and every time a new and unfamiliar face turns up at their house to provide their care. Many older people describe being undressed by care staff in front of windows or before family members with no provision whatsoever for their need for privacy and no efforts made to preserve their dignity. 

"The gradual erosion of someone’s sense of self-worth is extremely damaging,” said Mark. “The provision of care for the elderly should never be about the completion of tasks in the quickest or most cost-effective ways. This is essentially about the care of another human being. This is about their basic human rights and common decency. This is about caring for someone old and vulnerable in the same manner in which we ourselves would wish to be looked after when faced with increasing age and similar needs.”

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Read more: BBC