Older people, abuse and mistreatment in health and social care: One year on………and still waiting for change

For many staying out of harm’s way is a matter of locking doors and windows and avoiding dangerous places, people and situations; however for some older people it is not quite so easy.  The threat of abuse is behind those closed doors, well hidden from public view and for those living in the midst of adult abuse violence and fear permeates many aspects of their lives, frequently perpetrated against them by those charged with providing their care.

My first blog was posted on the 27th February 2012 entitled “The elderly have fewer rights than animals“.  A week later another post followed entitled “Dignity in the care of older people“, and then “Have we reached the point of compassion fatigue when it comes to the abuse of older people?”, followed by “Hillcroft Nursing Home:Whilst for Cameron it’s about an ‘aspiration nation’ for older people it’s humiliation after humiliation“.  You may have noticed a theme developing here over the last year!

So one year on what has changed? Whilst many are working to improve the situation at a structural level not much it would seem, most recently we have had the Francis Report with the promise of more Francis type reports in the pipeline. It must be terrifying being an older person in need of care today.

Although government and society are increasingly aware of the abuse and maltreatment of older people in health and social care settings, it stills seems to persist.  The Government has identified the protection of adults at risk of harm as a key area requiring reform, recognising the current system is failing some older people. However, it is reluctant to intervene via the introduction of legislative reform, fearing this might compromise individual and family liberty to live lives free from state interference.  Instead, government is seeking to extend responsibility for protecting older people from abuse and maltreatment to the individuals and institutions that make up society, in effect “Big Society” (Independent: 2010), suggesting ‘people and communities have a part to play in preventing, recognizing and reporting neglect and abuse.  It is everyone’s responsibility to be vigilant whilst Government provides direction and leadership, ensuring the law is clear but not over intrusive’ (DoH, 2010, p.25).

However, is ‘Big Society’  (government, providers, professionals, you and I) able, and willing, to make the care and protection of  older people our business?

This is not a ‘happy anniversary’, how can it be when the abuse and mistreatment of older people still persists?  Many individuals and organisations are working to effect positive change, however, we need an  ‘active’ commitment from government to speed this process up. Change is required across society to improve the care of older people post Francis Report, the UK government also needs to look outside of  its political borders for new ideas on how to create an environment that transforms our care system  from one of abuse and mistreatment to one characterised by compassion and care.

I hope I will be writing something different for my second anniversary! 


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.

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