Advising with empathy and experience

Increase in incidents of abuse and neglect.

Official figures reveal that the number of elderly and disabled people and their loved ones raising alarm about their treatment has jumped by more than a quarter in 12 months. According to official NHS data obtained by Age UK, the number of cases of alleged mistreatment or neglect of elderly and disabled people in England rose by a quarter to 172,530 in the year to April 2013. The issues giving rise to the alerts vary.  Some alerts relate to alleged neglect but others relate to financial exploitation or abuse.

A string of high profile abuse revelations involving care homes may have helped to trigger the surge in official alerts.  Social workers have spoken of an apparent “Winterbourne effect” with rising numbers of formal allegations coming to light in the wake of a scandal over the treatment of residents at the Winterbourne View Hospital in Bristol.

Age UK said that whatever the reason for the rise, the high level of cases in which no further action is taken was “worrying” and suggested that in at least some instances no one is being held to account.  The figures show that in more than a third of cases examined, no further action was taken and in around 1 in 20 cases the outcome was recorded simply as “unknown”.

The figures collected by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, also show that possible neglect was the biggest cause for concern, accounting for more than a third of cases, ahead of physical abuse which accounted for a quarter of alerts. 1 in 5 cases stem from suspicions of “financial abuse”, an often overlooked problem which includes suspicions that carers or close family were attempting to drain vulnerable people’s savings.

A Charity Director of Age UK, Caroline Abrahams, said “These numbers are disturbing…any abuse of older people is unacceptable and we need a zero tolerance approach to any abuse whether through neglect, financial manipulation or physical or mental cruelty.  Our biggest fear is that there are still many cases that are not reported and we would encourage anyone who suspects that an older person is being abused to contact their Social Services department or the Police straightaway”.

The Chief Executive of the disability charity, Scope, Richard Hawkes, said: “Recent high profile abuse cases of disabled people have been a wake up call…but care providers, the CQC, Local Authorities, the Police and the Courts have to get better at spotting abuse and tackling it when it is reported”.

Speaking of the figures, Rachel Griffiths of the CNCI team said “We welcome a culture of openness which allows concerns to be raised and properly investigated.  Nevertheless, there is clearly a considerable level of concern about the health and wellbeing of those in the care sector.  For those with close family members able to highlight issues, there is every chance that these alerts will lead to changes for the better.  There are many thousands of individuals with no close family and no regular visitors and they are particularly vulnerable to abuse, neglect and exploitation.  We would echo Age UK in encouraging anyone who suspects that an older person is being abused to contact their Social Services department or the Police immediately”.