Do older people have fewer rights than animals? It sometime’s seems that way..

The mistreatment of older people extends well beyond the confines of the hospital ward when we consider research suggests up to 500,000 older people are abused or neglected in the community each year (Action onElder Abuse, 2007) and older people routinely receive inhumane and degrading treatment in residential care (Joint Committee on Human Rights, 2007).

Six years on from both these reports not much seems to have changed, even though cries of indignation from both government and society continue, so does the abuse.

Any attempts to raise awareness and improve care provision for older people is to be welcomed, however, the introduction of voluntary dignity codes and trip advisor type systems alone is not enough to address an issue that goes to the very heart of society; our indifference to older people. The Health Service Ombudsman (Abraham, 2011) highlights the culture of indifference that exists in the health sector citing incidences of older people leaving hospital with numerous physical injuries, mentally confused and soaked in urine, whilst research suggests older people living in the community dominate the abuse landscape, yet are invisible to wider society (Mansell et al,2009). The conviction of carers charged with abusing older residents with demnetia at Hillcroft Nursing Home confirms how little has changed.

The level of our indifference can be measured by the difference in response following the case of ‘Baby P’.

The tragic case of ‘Baby P’ not only provoked outrage, but a commitment from government to change the system, with ProfessorEileen Munro outlining how structural and organisational change was required to improve services for vulnerable children. Surely, it is time to undertake such a review in the provision of health and social care for older people?

We need to start from a very basic level before we reach the same level of response as that seen in childcare. The prevention of mistreatment of older people requires firstly a change in society’s attitude. A dignity code may help, eventually, but hard legislation would work faster and send a message that the mistreatment of older people will not be tolerated. Legislation relating to the mistreatment of children demonstrates the value of specific legislation. Whilst child abuse has not been eradicated legislation has changed society’s response to child abuse i.e. there is a broad consensus that it is not acceptable. Other examples of where legislation can moderate attitudes and behaviour to vulnerable groups can be seen in legislation related to racism and homophobia, whilst, again, it is acknowledged racism and homophobia have not been eradicated, it has arguably changed wider society’s response to groups who have been traditionally vulnerable to abuse in British society.

Munro’s review has highlighted significant flaws in the organisational structures and practices that exist in childrens’ services, many within adult services would suggest those same flaws also exist within the provision of health and social care to older people. This involves not just looking at individual workers but also the organisational culture they work in, what use is it having someone sign a dignity code if the processes and procedures within the organisation they work prevent them adhering to them?

Our current system of care provision leaves many older people vulnerable to mistreatment, this has to change, a voluntary code could help, but on its own it will do nothing to soften the hardened heart of government and society who express outrage but just as soon forget the plight of many older people.

About digalpin

I gained my social work qualification from the University of Southampton and worked for 14 years in mental health, disability and older people services. I am currently a senior lecturer in post-qualifying social work at Bournemouth University and am conducting research on government and societal attitudes and responses to the mistreatment of older people in health and social care provision for my doctorate. My views are my own.

5 thoughts on “Do older people have fewer rights than animals? It sometime’s seems that way..

  1. Hi Di, couldn’t agree more. Have written two posts on this in the last year and Think it’s a societal issue for sure, I think anything that helps challenge us to treat older people with more dignity is a good thing, and anything that raises the awareness of the general public is also a good thing. Great blog, looking forward to further posts.

    1. Cheers George,
      Thanks for getting in touch – I really enjoyed reading your posts. I am hoping to write more about the treatment of older people so keep in touch!

  2. Hello Di
    We wholeheartedley agree with your views – we have been banging on about this since for the last four years
    Regulators, inspectorates, Ombudsman CoronersEquality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC) all allegedly have legal powers or influence but don’t seem to use it much – nor work together to increase their authority! It is a bit of a first that the EHRC have acknowledged older people in care settings in their latest review of human rights in UK – we have been banging on to them for ages about the abuses that have been occurring. Whilst we agree with your view on legisaltion being needed, there is already loads out there that could be used – those working in the NHS need to realise that it applies to them! We have delivered training on human rights to many professionals and it is evident that they are unaware of their legal obligations. We have also produced a resource called dignity ward – which is about human rights – it can be downloaded from the publications section of our website.

    1. Thanks Monica, I’m not sure how many more reports, reviews, TV programmes and media campaigns we need for government to make a real commitment to change. I’m in the middle of my doctorate at the moment (Mistreatment of older people in a Big Society) and I lecture on Safeguarding Adults so it feels like my life is taken over by these issues, how much longer are we going to let this go on! Keep up the good work, glad to share anything (thoughts/ideas/hopes/drerams) if its helpful to you.

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