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Nurses have a key role to play in tackling elder abuse

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'THE NHS is in denial' over elder abuse. This was the allegation produced by the government's ongoing consultation into how it should amend the No Secrets guidance.

The suggestion was that NHS staff viewed the abuse of older people as something that happened in people's own homes or in residential care and was therefore the responsibility of the social services.

There are many in the NHS who do care deeply about elder abuse but the perception of 'denial' is a reflection of the overly rigid demarcation lines which can afflict public services - confusing and even potentially endangering the public.

Nowhere is this more of an issue than in cases of domestic violence involving older people (see feature). This is the most neglected aspect of elder abuse - a deeply hidden problem cursed with myriad complications that places the victim in
a situation from which it seems impossible to escape. The UK's ageing population means the number of people affected is only going to increase.

Nurses are often the first to see indications of abuse. They spend time with patients and - unlike social work colleagues - are more likely to detect the physical effects of abuse.

The development of a policy of routine enquiry into domestic abuse affecting older people would be welcome but nurses can do much now to prepare themselves to deal with any incidents they encounter.

Individual nurses and the teams in which they work should educate themselves about how to recognise domestic abuse and put in place policies that will ensure action. Crucially, they should know who to contact for support and how.

This should produce closer links with others involved in caring for older people. It should also help identify best practice and areas where those demarcation lines are undermining care.

The final action nurses should take is to feed these examples - good and bad - into the government's No Secrets consultation.

Valuable in itself, it would be one of the most powerful ways to demonstrate that claims of 'denial' cannot be levelled at nursing and nurses.

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