Critical report into care of elderly man

WALES’ Commissioner for Older People is irrelevant, a charity claimed yesterday, as it issued a damning report into the care of an elderly man.

The Action on Elder Abuse report pointed to systemic failures at local and national levels to act on concerns raised by the family of Derek Parker over his treatment at a Penarth care home.

The Vale of Glamorgan council, the Care and Social Services Inspectorate for Wales and the Commissioner for Older People, Ruth Marks, were all condemned for failing to intervene in the care of Mr Parker, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.

Action for Elder Abuse catalogued its 12-month battle to raise concerns initially voiced by Mr Parker’s family in its report, A Year of Failure.

Some of the experiences recounted in the report include:

The commissioner’s office stating a report was receiving attention when the password necessary to open the document had not been obtained;

The commissioner then refusing to intervene because of the need “to refer closely to the regulatory framework”;

The Care and Social Services Inspectorate for Wales regulator refusing to investigate because the Vale council had said the issues did not reach an adult protection threshold;

The Vale council taking no action for two months until their own legal department indicated that they must, and then fulfilling no more than an administrative function.

The report suggests CSSIW is failing in its statutory responsibilities as a regulator, the Vale of Glamorgan adult protection system is failing to implement the In Safe Hands recommendations, published to address the need to protect vulnerable adults, and that the commissioner is ineffectual in tackling elder abuse.

The family of Mr Parker – a former Anglican minister who lectured in social work in Cardiff and worked to improve the care of the elderly before becoming ill himself – raised concerns over his care at the Waverley Care Centre in Penarth.

The report said the family’s concerns were first dismissed as issues which “did not meet the threshold for adult protection intervention” by the Vale’s adult protection team, before three investigations finally led them to address some of the problems.

Mr Parker died of natural causes two months later in a different care home.

Gary FitzGerald, chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse, said the role of commissioner, the first of its kind in the world, gave “an illusion of protection not reality”.

He said: “We are a UK-wide organisation and we have been using the fact that Wales has gone forward with this initiative to try and encourage other countries in the UK to follow suit.

“It is difficult for us to then turn around and say what we have said, which is, ‘What is the point?’

“If you cannot go to the commissioner, then I cannot see any point in having one. We are determined to take this issue forward and we are asking older people to come forward because we suspect this is not an isolated case.”

Of Mr Parker’s family, he said: “They are hoping that by making Derek’s experience public that no other family has to go through a similar experience in the future.”

Ms Marks was given the role of Wales’ first Commissioner for Older People in January 2008.

Last night, she denied any wrongdoing, saying: “My full sympathy is with Mr Parker’s family who have faced this challenging time and we must be extremely sensitive in any statements and actions.”

Vale of Glamorgan council said internal inquiries into the treatment of Mr Parker were “ongoing” and newly-appointed senior managers were “keen to make further improvements in the adult protection service”.

A spokeswoman said: “The issues raised by the family and by the charity were dealt with initially as a complaint. The council agreed to appoint an independent investigator who sought information from the other agencies.

“Following representations made by the charity and having received further legal advice, it was decided that outstanding inquiries would be managed formally under the Protection of Vulnerable Adult procedures and not by an independent investigator. These inquiries under the POVA process are ongoing.”

The Welsh Assembly Government said it was satisfied with the actions of the CSSIW and Ms Marks.

“It is important where people have concerns about the care of an elderly relative or friend that they are able to raise these with the relevant authorities, which include local authorities, CSSIW and the police, who will investigate or take action where required,” it said.

Western Mail comment: Action needed to stamp out abuse of the elderly

CHANGES in Wales’ demographic make-up mean we are living longer than ever before, and the proportion of the population aged over 65 is growing all the time. Yet we remain a long way from creating a society which respects and cares for its older members.

As we report today, there are still deep concerns that services designed to ensure people enjoy dignity and safety in their final years, are not receiving the levels of support they deserve.

Too often there seems to be a gap between the public rhetoric – all political parties, of course, say they want to do more for the over-65s – and the reality of care for some people and their families.

This isn’t an issue that’s going to get easier to tackle, either.

Despite recent reports of a baby boom, the proportion of the Welsh population over retirement age, 21.4%, comfortably exceeds the proportion under 16, at 18.5%. Both figures were roughly equal as recently as 2001, but have been diverging ever since.

Issues ranging from the cost of pensions to the structure of health and care services need to be addressed now, in anticipation of what will be an increasingly older society in the decades to come.

As today’s report from charity Action on Elder Abuse suggests, there are plenty of challenges to be addressed. They focus on the role of the Commissioner for Older People, a unique Welsh position, and make a series of criticisms.

These criticisms need to be addressed if the commissioner is to be an effective advocate for the rights of older people – something the Children’s Commissioner’s office has done with some success.

Not all the issues highlighted today can be laid at the door of the Commissioner for Older People.

There have been well-documented problems in Welsh social services dating back many years, and the way we pay for elderly people’s care is an issue that needs to be resolved at a political level.

But if the implication of the charity’s report is correct – that people are suffering as a result of gaps in the regulation process – then that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Elder abuse is a horrific indictment of any society, and the suggestion, made in a government- funded report, that it may be more prevalent in Wales than elsewhere, should be a wake-up call for all of us.

Its causes may range from malice to poor training and staff shortages in care homes, but each element needs to be tackled as part of a coherent strategy.

Campaigns like the NSPCC’s Full Stop could serve as a model.

As today’s report says, one case of abuse is one case too many. It’s time this problem was given the political priority it needs if it is to be stamped out for good.