100,000 Elderly In Scotland May Suffer Abuse

More than 60 elderly people have suffered abuse in Scotland’s care homes during the past two years, a watchdog has revealed. The latest figures show that the number of abuse complaints upheld by the Care Commission has risen by a third year on year.

However, Age Concern Scotland last night described the figures as a “vast underestimate” and claimed it was more likely that up to 100,000 elderly people were abused in Scotland annually.

Some 63 complaints about abuse in care homes have been upheld by the agency since 2004, including concerns about inappropriate restraints, and pensioners being spoken to in an unacceptable manner or being shouted or pushed around.

Liz Norton, the director of the Care Commission, said the rise was due to increased awareness of the issue. However, she said abuse was still under-reported and called for an overhaul of the care system to ensure that vulnerable old people were as well protected as children.

She said: “It probably is an underestimate of what is going on. A few years ago, child-protection services were overhauled. The same campaign is needed for old people in that their abuse and mistreatment is everybody’s business.”

The Care Commission has received more than 3,100 complaints since being established in 2002, with 1,559 upheld. Those upheld were broken down into 18 categories, with many covering more than one area. They included 34 complaints about abuse that were found to be legitimate last year – up a third in a year.

Other problems ranged from not providing privacy and dignity to failing to change incontinence pads and not serving nutritional food. Ms Norton said: “People are becoming more aware of what to expect and are complaining if they don’t get it.”

She said most complaints were about basic care, such as people not getting outdoors enough. Health and welfare problems included complaints on nutritional standards or not getting chiropody or other medical services. Being given the wrong medication was also common.

There have been 97 complaints about privacy and dignity since 2002, such as elderly women being left to walk around with stockings around their ankles, messy hair or food on their clothes. “There is an issue about the environment of care homes,” said Ms Norton. “We have examples of care homes where people are not treated in a dignified way.”

Ann Ferguson, the elder abuse projects co-ordinator for Age Concern Scotland, said much serious abuse went unreported as victims believed nothing could be done. Age Concern claims 100,000 people are being abused in Scotland – about 10 per cent of the elderly population.

A Scottish Executive spokeswoman said: “Our Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Bill, which is undergoing parliamentary scrutiny, will help to limit all kinds of elder abuse by offering greater support and protection to those at risk.

“It will do so by introducing greater investigative rights and placing duties on councils to investigate abuse, as well as a range of post-assessment interventions.

“This will offer greater protection for older people, who are sometimes unable to protect themselves from harm, and will mean the often hidden problem of elder abuse can be tackled sensitively.”

Last year, the actress Virginia McKenna starred in a ten-minute film about society’s treatment of older people. The filmmaker Amanda Waring sold her flat to finance What Do You See?, which has raised thousands of pounds for Help the Aged and Macmillan Cancer Relief.

The moving film is being sent to nurses, doctors, care workers, schools, hospital trusts and governments worldwide to change the way the elderly are viewed.

‘My mother would have been better off in her own home’

MARLENE Sivewright was a healthy elderly woman when she went into a care home, according to her family. Three months later, she was described in a post-mortem examination as “emaciated”.

During her time at a nursing home in Falkirk, staff insisted the 74-year-old was “eating heartily”. Yet her weight dropped to just over 6st. The family said their concern at her rapid physical deterioration was ignored and when she eventually died of pneumonia, doctors said the infection would not have killed a fit individual.

A complaint to the Care Commission was upheld. Yet under current rules, little can be done to ensure this does not happen again.

Her daughter, Margaret Sivewright, says enforcement orders by the Care Commission were not made public and so the family had no idea of potential problems. She says her mother only entered the home in July 2005 because of a neurological disorder that caused her to fall frequently.

Margaret voiced her concerns before her mother’s death but claims she was overruled. When her mother became ill, staff did not send her to hospital. The care home later admitted nutritional assessments of Mrs Sivewright may have been fabricated, but little could be done because the care home was private.

“I certainly feel the system is a big let-down, that my mother would have been far better in her own home – then at least we could have been looking after her in a better way than in a care home,” said her daughter. “It just seems to be if you go to the care home, there are too many patients and not enough staff.”