'Shameful' treatment of elderly - report

JON WELCH A report highlighting the “shameful” treatment of elderly people in hospitals and care homes was welcomed last night by campaigners.

JON WELCH

A report highlighting the “shameful” treatment of elderly people in hospitals and care homes was welcomed last night by campaigners.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights, an influential group of peers and MPs, called for a “complete change of culture” in health and care services and said new legal obligations should be placed on old peoples' homes.

The committee heard evidence about care home residents being left lying in their own urine or excrement, suffering malnutrition and being abused by staff.

It concluded: “In our view, elder abuse is a serious and severe human rights abuse perpetrated on vulnerable older people who often depend on their abusers to provide them with care. Not only is it a betrayal of trust; it would also, in certain circumstances, amount to a criminal offence.”

Norfolk has 222 care homes for older people across the private, public and voluntary sectors, offering 7,181 places.

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North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “There are some very high standards in health and social care and we mustn't tar all providers with the same brush. But there are clearly real concerns and the culture in some locations is not acceptable. People sometimes get treated like second-class citizens.”

Mr Lamb was critical of the Commission for Social Care Inspection (CSCI) which registers, inspects and reports on the homes.

“I have had to take up with CSCI some issues about the treatment of elderly people in specific care homes and I don't feel they handled it at all well,” he said.

Mr Lamb, the Liberal Democrats' shadow health secretary, pointed to CSCI figures for Norfolk he obtained last December under Freedom of Information legislation. The assessments showed 28 of Norfolk's 389 care homes were ranked poor, 103 adequate, 203 good and 50 excellent, with five still to be inspected.

He said. “Some horrifying things can go on behind closed doors. The government must drive up standards, improve skill levels and eradicate these practices.”

Edith Pocock, Norfolk and Norwich Pensioners' Association secretary, said: “Older people can't always speak for themselves and for many years people in some of the homes - not all of them - have been at the hands of people who don't give them the best of treatment.”

The committee criticised the Department of Health and Ministry of Justice for failing to provide proper leadership and guidance about the Human Rights Act to health and residential care providers. Because of the lack of "political leadership” from ministers, voluntary groups faced an "uphill struggle” to improve patients' rights.

It also found evidence of “historic and embedded ageism” within health care services, causing a failure to "respect and protect the human rights of older people”.

It was “alarmed” that the government's planned new Healthcare Inspectorate would not be given powers to investigate individual complaints and called for a positive duty on health and residential care providers to promote equality for older people.

A CSCI spokesman said: “In our evidence, CSCI highlighted the progress made and those developments still required. Since the introduction of national minimum standards for care homes in 2002-03, the percentage of NMS being met by care homes has gone up from 59 per cent in 2003 to 79pc in 2006. While this improvement shows real progress in raising the standard of social care there is more to be done.”

Norfolk County Council runs 26 care homes for older people, offering 850 places. Spokesman Lorraine Rollo said: “Our whole ethos is centred on treating people with respect and dignity.”

Andrew Stronach, for the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, said: “This trust has expanded its Medicine for the Elderly department significantly and now has nine consultants for the elderly.

“We are continually assessed by the Healthcare Commission and other agencies on the quality of the care we provide for all patients, including older people. Last year, for example, the Dr Foster/Saga Good Hospital Guide rated us as the best hospital in Norfolk and Suffolk, and a top quartile performer nationally, for the quality of care for older patients.”

John Sharples, chairman of Norfolk Joint Care Partnership, a forum bringing together social services, CSCI, and care homes in the voluntary and independent sector, said: “Although there are incidents of bad practice, there are many more of good. The government has already taken steps to ensure standards in care homes are improved. The current regulation is about right.”

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