The BBC will broadcast shocking images of abuse on Panorama whilst the Telegraph suggested last year the treatment of older people in care is now so bad that it meets the legal definition of torture according to the Governments own human rights watchdog (John Bingham, 5th March 2012). How many more news reports do we have to watch and read before society and government decide to react with more than short lived outrage or have we reached the point of ‘compassion fatigue’ when it comes to the abuse of older people?
The BBC’s Panorama (17th June 2013) will make for shocking, and saddening, viewing on the care of older people in Britain today. Sadly this is not new to many of us who have worked in the care sector. Yet our voices have gone unheard, leading to many, such as myself, leaving the profession.
Unfortunately the abuse of older people is not confined to hospital and residential settings, it is estimated up to 340,000 older people in the UK are abused each year in their own homes. The abuse of older people now parallels that of children with many experiencing emotional, psychological, physical, sexual and financial abuse perpetrated against them by those charged with providing care and support, for example, partners, wider family and professional carers.
This most recent report of abuse appears after many others, highlighting the disgraceful treatment older people experience from those supposed to be proving their care, whether at home, in hospital or residential care. A report by the Health Service Ombudsman on the abuse of older people in hospital settings suggests there is a culture of indifference from both government and staff to the abuse of older people.
The Independent commented:
“For a while we may pause to express outrage. But we then move on to the urgent business of our daily lives. Spot checks and hit squads may arrest the worst practice…..But they will not do much about a society that has hardened its heart against the elderly.”
Doing nothing is not an option. The review of adult social care law undertaken by the Law Commission in 2011 made clear to government the law pertaining to the protection of vulnerable older people requires strengthening as the current framework is clearly not working. However, this alone will not address the issue. The current discourse on the care of older people also needs to change, we have reached the point where ‘cost’ is king, every aspect of care for the elderly is framed in the language of economics. Government and society are so focused on the cost of care they have lost sight of the value of caring to society, from a moral and ethical perspective. Replacing values such as dignity and respect in care with ‘value for money’ has reduced older people to a percentile of spending of tax payers money, rather than being viewed as actual people, people who at some point may require additional help and support, through no fault of their own but as a natural process of ageing. Indeed the focus on cost diverts our attention from the real issue, we as a society are, at best, indifferent to the plight of older people.
Our ability to watch abuse captured on film in care settings and read report after report yet do nothing to change our attitude is disturbing, maybe society is experiencing ‘compassion fatigue’? If this is the case old age is to be more feared than death!
Real change can only occur if built on a foundation of respect for older people. Developing a culture of dignity and respect for older people requires more than codes of practice to guide the carers who look after our older people. We all have to develop a much deeper understanding of what ‘dignity’ and ‘respect’ actually mean and how we demonstrate dignity and respect to one another, starting firstly with ourselves. Arguably if individuals respected themselves they would not allow themselves to act in such a way that is abusive to those they care for. It would also help if we respected carers by paying them a wage that genuinely reflects the complex nature of the work they do.
It is with shame that we should read the treatment of older people in care is now so bad that it meets the legal definition of torture according to the Governments own human rights watchdog. How many more programmes showing carers abusing those most vulnerable must we watch, how many more people have to suffer before society and government decide to react with more than short lived outrage?