Abuse Of Vulnerable Adults On Rise

Abuse of vulnerable adults in Suffolk has more than tripled in the last four years – and care bosses believe the figures are only the tip of the iceberg. Charities and disability rights campaigners have raised concerns about the trend and called for such abuse to be taken more seriously after it emerged cases in the county have soared by 269% in three years.

One of the most alarming cases involved a staff member at a private residential home in the Suffolk coastal area who was sacked last year after flicking the nose of an elderly resident as he filmed the incident on his mobile phone before sending it to a friend.

Bill Nicol, head of adult safeguarding services for Suffolk County Council, revealed the latest figures but said he put much of the increase down to more people reporting abuse rather than an actual significant increase in incidents. He said adults with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, mental health patients and the elderly were all classed as vulnerable by their need for community care.

Incidents in both private and council care homes, care in the community and special centres were all covered in the calculation of the latest figures.

Mr Nicol said he was not acutely concerned by the statistics, explaining: “I don’t think the rise is because more people are being abused, I think it is because people didn’t know what to look for – we now do training for all staff who are in contact with vulnerable adults. I expect we will see a continued rise over the next two or three years then it should level out.

“The rule of thumb is one in five cases of abuse will be reported – some people don’t report it because they are embarrassed and some people don’t know they are being abused because they don’t know any different. We are encouraging people to speak up for themselves.

“The case in private sector residential care in the coastal area (involving the flicking of the victim’s nose), which happened early last year, was an exceptional case and therefore not representative.” But he stressed: “It shocked me as it was a complete lack of respect – it saddens me that people could do that.”

Mr Nicol said 98% of those abused know the perpetrator as a family member, friend, fellow customer, or member of staff – with more than half those responsible related to the victim.

Daniel Blake, policy development office for Action for Elder Abuse, said the incident of the violence filmed on the phone was particularly grim: “Cases like that are unfortunately much too common but the shock factor of them doesn’t diminish. “It is extremely worrying there are such large numbers of adults being abused and most elderly people are too frightened or ashamed to report it.”

A spokesman for the Disability Rights Commission said: “Adult abuse is something we should take more seriously – the rise is quite shocking but it is difficult to know why that is.”

A spokesman for Age Concern said: “It is true that there has been a large increase in the reporting of all kinds of abuse in the last four years and that reflects the increase in awareness that these things can happen and they are happening here in Suffolk.”