Almost half a million safeguarding concerns raised about potential abuse of adults in last year

Almost half a million safeguarding concerns about abuse were raised during 2019-20 – a rise of almost 15% from the previous year, new figures show.

There were 475,560 reports raised to or by councils in England about suspected abuse of adults between April 2019 and March 2020, NHS Digital figures show.

This is more than double the number of concerns reported over 2015-16, when reporting of data was voluntary, and is up 14.6% from 2018-19.

If councils believe an adult with care and support needs is experiencing or is at risk of abuse or neglect, they must carry out an inquiry under Section 42 of the 2014 Care Act.

Local authorities started inquiries into 161,910 reports concerning 129,525 individuals – a rise from the previous financial year of 12.9%.

They also started 15,655 “other” safeguarding inquiries concerning people who did not meet all of the Section 42 criteria.

Safeguarding concerns can include cases of domestic abuse, sexual exploitation, modern slavery and self-neglect.

Of the Section 42 inquiries that concluded over 2019-20, the most commonly investigated risk was neglect and acts of omission, making up 65,590 – almost a third (31.8%) of those looked into.

This was followed by physical abuse, with 42,340 inquiries.

A total of 70,330 (43.8%) of the inquiries concerned adults in their own home, while the second highest location was residential care homes (40,820).

People aged 85 and over were 18 times more likely to be the subject of a Section 42 inquiry than those aged between 18 and 64.

There were 2,635 individuals aged 85 and over involved in safeguarding inquiries per 100,000 of that age group, compared with 141 adults per 100,000 aged 18-64.

The data shows that of the concluded inquiries where a risk was identified, 89% of the outcomes reported the risk being reduced or removed.

The experimental statistics only include cases of suspected abuse where a local authority safeguarding service has been notified and has entered details on their system.

It does not include cases where other bodies have dealt with the allegation and not shared the information, and it is likely there are cases of suspected abuse that have not been reported to councils.

Further data expected to be published later this year will examine the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which took hold at the end of the period covered by the latest figures.

NHS Digital also released statistics on Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards, a legal procedure used to keep a person who lacks capacity to consent to their care safe from harm in a care home or hospital, such as those with dementia or mental health problems.

There were 263,940 applications received during 2019-20, relating to 216,980 people, and 243,300 applications were completed during the period.

The number of applications has risen by an average of 13.9% each year since 2014-15, and completed applications by an average of 31.2%.

There were 129,780 that had not been completed as of March, a fall of 1.2% from March 2019. It is the first year the number of cases not completed has fallen.

Applications must be processed within a legal time limit of 21 days, but experts have previously said insufficient funding combined with huge demand has left councils struggling to cope.

Under a quarter (23.6%) of applications were completed within the 21 days in 2019-20.

The average length of time for all completed applications was 142 days, while the longest it took to complete an application was 2,153 days – almost six years.

Of the 129,780 applications not completed as of March 2020, 38% (49,500) had been open for more than a year.

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