Older people cared for at home 'lacking basic rights'
- 20 June 2011
- From the section Health
Care of older people in their homes is so poor their human rights are being overlooked, an inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission has found.
The inquiry is investigating how well over-65s who receive homecare visits are looked after in England.
The commission says it has uncovered worrying cases of neglect and examples of lack of respect for older people's privacy and dignity.
Its full report will be published in November.
After looking at the evidence, it says there are "major problems" in the home care system.
It describes cases of people being left in bed for 17 hours, or more, between care visits and a failure to wash people regularly.
It received reports of people being left in filthy nightwear and bedding after a homecare visit, or without a wash or hair wash for several weeks.
Visits are sometimes so brief, the report says, that people have to choose between having a cooked meal or a wash.
The short visits also mean that staff have to rush tasks like washing and dressing, which frustrates both the elderly people and care staff.
High staff turnover also has an impact on those being cared for, the commission finds.
The report said: "People have described the emotional impact of being washed and dressed by a large number of different people, and having to repeatedly disclose personal information every time a new care worker comes to the house."
Some older people describe feeling that their privacy and dignity were not respected when they were undressed by care staff in front of family members or in front of their bungalow window.
To gather evidence for the inquiry, the Equality and Human Rights Commission carried out surveys with NHS local authorities, primary care trusts and private home care providers.
Fifty-four per cent of local authorities completed the survey, as did 250 home care providers in England.
The commission also looked at over 500 written submissions from older people and their families, and 101 from home care staff.
One in five older people who responded to the commission's request for evidence said they would not normally complain because they did not know how to - or for fear of repercussions.
The commission says it will explore what protection and support is in place for people who want to expose poor or abusive practices.
Peter Hay, from the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, said "poor care is never acceptable whatever the system".
However, he pointed out that the interim report was looking at complaints, and so inevitably emphasized problems.
But he acknowledged that the problems were two-fold - "when organisations lose sight of the person they are caring for and it becomes about a task, and... how do we get older people in particular to be well-informed and powerful consumers.
"They are very passive about complaining."
He said people needed to more assertive in getting the right care they need, at the time they need it.
Michelle Mitchell, charity director at Age UK, said the findings showed "serious neglect".
"Despite government commitments made by both the previous and current government, basic rights to dignity, respect and autonomy are still being breached.
"The biggest threat to the human rights of older people receiving care at home is from cuts to adult social care budgets, and it is very unclear whether tightening eligibility criteria to care will allow local authorities to continue to meet their human rights obligations."
Care services minister Paul Burstow said: "There can be no place for poor quality care in care services, either in the home care system or in residential homes."
He added the inquiry would "help drive up standards of care and expose bad practice".