Report Slams Care Home Standards

A disturbing picture of the abuse and neglect suffered by elderly people in care homes and hospitals is revealed today in a parliamentary report.

The inquiry by MPs and peers found alarming evidence of patients left lying in soiled bedclothes, sexual assaults, malnutrition, bullying and inappropriate use of medication.

It condemns the ill-treatment as a “serious and severe human rights abuse” and a “betrayal of trust”.

In some circumstances, the report says, it was clear that a “criminal offence” had been committed.

The inquiry also criticises the lack of dignity with which people are treated, particularly the absence of privacy on mixed sex wards.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights condemns the Government for failing to provide “leadership and guidance” and says an “entire culture change” is needed to transform the system.

Existing legislation does not provide enough protection.

Following a House of Lords ruling that private care homes do not come under the Human Rights Act, the report calls on ministers to rewrite the regulations to ensure that all care homes are covered.

There should also be a “positive duty” on hospitals and care homes to “promote equality for older people”.

The 102-page report offers a bleak picture of the conditions many elderly people have to endure.

It highlights how one 80-year-old woman in a care home was sexually assaulted by another resident but her daughter was not told about the attack until a year later.

People also reported how elderly relatives were left “slowly starving to death” because staff would not help them to eat. Many patients are routinely treated with a lack of dignity.

One woman reported how her husband had spent 90 minutes ringing the bell in vain for a nurse because he needed the lavatory.

Others said that confidential medical notes were read out in front of other patients and residents, or people were given their lunch while on the commode.

Concern was expressed about the inappropriate use of drugs. Medication, including sleeping tablets, is often prescribed without the knowledge of family members.

The MPs and peers also express alarm about the way elderly people were discharged from hospital without proper steps being taken to ensure they had support at home.

In one “grotesque” case, a man was discharged on the same day as his wife’s funeral.

The report also criticises the prevalence of “subtle and indirect” age discrimination.

One in five care homes also fails to meet the national minimum standards for privacy and dignity.

The committee says the Government needs to do more to emphasise the human rights of elderly people and says it is “alarmed” that the new Healthcare Inspectorate will not have power to investigate individual complaints.

Andrew Dismore, the committee’s Labour chairman, said: “Neglect and ill treatment of the elderly is a severe abuse of human rights.

We must see a complete change of culture in the health and care services.”

Kate Jopling, the head of public affairs at Help the Aged, called for new laws. “This influential group of parliamentarians has lifted the lid on the shameful treatment of our older citizens,” she said.

Amanda Hutchison, of the Healthcare Commission, added: “Treating older people with dignity and respect must become a cornerstone of care delivery for health services.”

Ivan Lewis, the health minister, said ministers were working to ensure that the Human Rights Act “should apply to publicly funded residents of private care homes in the same way that residents of local authority care homes are protected”.

Major findings

• Elderly people in care homes and hospitals are suffering abuse, sexual assaults, rough treatment, malnutrition, dehydration, bullying and neglect

• Lack of dignity, with some patients left “lying in their own urine and excrement”

• Lack of privacy. In some cases, staff discussed confidential medical matters in front of patients and residents

• Lack of “proper leadership” from the health department and justice ministry

• Some old people are too afraid to complain about their treatment

• Inappropriate use of physical restraint and medication

• “Subtle and indirect” age discrimination in many hospitals and care homes

• There must be an “entire culture change” in the way older people are treated

• Regulations on standards need to be amended to bring all care homes under Human Rights Act