UK’s old age miseries revealed

By Alex Stevenson

Serious widespread failings in home care for older people are emerging, as MPs prepare to clash over plans to raise the retirement age.

A report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) claims older people's basic human rights are being overlooked in the provision of care at home.

It showed that some people are being left in their beds for 17 hours between visits. Some were left in soiled beds and clothing for lengthy periods. Others were not being washed regularly or helped to eat and drink.

"The full extent of the potential human rights breaches is likely to be masked by the fear of complaining and the low expectations about the quality of homecare that many older people believe they are entitled to," the EHRC report stated.

"One in five older people who responded to the call for evidence said that they would not complain because they didn't know how to, or for fear of repercussions."

Age UK charity director Michelle Mitchell said the report showed evidence of "serious neglect".

"Providing personal care for older people should not be about completing tasks in whatever is the quickest or cheapest way," she commented.

"Decent care is about looking after a fellow human being in the way that we would like to be cared for when we are older.

"Despite commitments made by both the previous and current government, basic rights to dignity, respect and autonomy are still being breached."

The report cited lack of staff awareness and training, high staff turnover and low expectations as being responsible for the extremely low standards.

It comes in the wake of revelations about a private hospital near Bristol, Winterbourne, where nurses face allegations that they physically and verbally abused patients.

A commission on the funding of care and support, set up last July and chaired by Andrew Dilnot, is set to report to the government by next month.

"There can be no place for poor quality care in care services, either in the home care system or in residential homes," care services minister Paul Burstow commented.

"The shocking abuses at Winterbourne have thrown into sharp focus how important it is that the dignity and safety of the most vulnerable people in our society are safeguarded.

"We welcome the inquiry, which will help drive up standards of care and expose bad practice. We look forward to seeing the results."

Ms Mitchell of Age UK warned that funding, training and systems had to be in place to cope with the growing demands on the care system. Government spending cuts could also have an impact, she added.

"The biggest threat to the human rights of older people receiving care at home is from cuts to adult social care budgets and it is very unclear whether tightening eligibility criteria to care will allow local authorities to continue to meet their human rights obligations," she said.