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Home care could be like Winterbourne View in living rooms across the land

  • Comment
  • BBC investigation reveals extent of abuse by home carers
  • Funding for community care is crucial but not the whole answer
  • Carer regulation, abuser prosecution and oversight by statutory services are needed

Imagine having people come into your home several times a day and subject you to physical and verbal abuse. Of course you wouldn’t tolerate it. But what if you were frail and vulnerable and depended on those people to care for you?

A shocking investigation by the BBC’s File on Four has revealed that thousands of vulnerable people have been subjected to abuse by carers working in the community. With only half of local councils responding to its Freedom of Information request, there had been over 23,000 safeguarding alerts between 2013-14 and 2015-16. Assuming the remaining councils had similar results, that’s around 15,000 alerts per a year – yet only 15 led to prosecutions. And The Patients Association believes many more incidents go unreported.

“The abuse may never have come to light if her daughter had not installed a hidden camera”

While a proportion of the alerts may not have been justified, and others may have related to ‘minor’ incidents, distressing images of 86-year-old Dora Melton being slapped around the head, roughly handled and sworn at by two carers offer a graphic example of what is happening in the most extreme cases. Like over half of recipients of home care, Mrs Melton has dementia, so the abuse – or at least its serious nature – may never have come to light if her daughter had not installed a hidden camera. This provided enough evidence to send one of the carers to prison and the other to receive a suspended sentence.

If frail people are to be enabled to stay in their own homes rather than hospital or care homes, a well-run social care system is crucial. Instead it appears that we have the equivalent of Winterbourne View taking place in living rooms across the land.

“The reasons for this depressing situation are well-known”

The reasons for this depressing situation are well-known: cash-strapped councils contract out to private companies, who employ unregulated staff on minimum wage and book their time slots back to back. This means carers who are paid to provide 30 minutes of care – often directly by the recipient of that care – may actually provide 15 minutes or less. They are rushed and harassed and many of their clients are confused.

But while the context may explain why abuse is happening on such a large scale, it certainly doesn’t excuse it; perpetrators should be punished. However, a spokesman for Action on Elder Abuse told the BBC that the police are rarely involved when complaints of abuse are made, saying they are instead ‘social worked’. So carers may lose their job if complaints are upheld, but with no police involvement their Disclosure and Barring Service checks will be unblemished and they can move on to another job in the sector.

“Carers should be regulated so they can at least be banned from the industry”

If home care is to be as safe as its recipients deserve it must be properly funded so there is sufficient capacity and employers can recruit compassionate carers. But funding is not the whole answer. Carers should be regulated so they can at least be banned from the industry if found to have committed abuse, and the system needs to be more closely linked in with statutory health and social care services.

If carers knew nurses or social workers were visiting regularly they might just think twice before they abuse the people in their care.

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