Sadly, through working on a campaign like Care in Crisis at Age UK, I’ve heard plenty of horror stories of older people experiencing poor levels of care at a time when they are most vulnerable. But even I was shocked at what BBC’s Panorama uncovered in their programme on care homes, Behind Closed Doors, this week.
Neglect, bullying and taunting, being ignored, rough treatment and even outright assault: this is what was found during secret filming in more than one care home. It left me feeling upset, distressed and angry. How is it that this sort of thing can still take place in 21st-century Britain?
Before going any further, I feel it’s important to point out that there are some fantastic examples of great quality care taking place in care homes, where vulnerable older people, some with very complex needs, are able to live the final months and years of their lives with the dignity they deserve.
But every example of bad quality care is one too many.
Everyone has a right to expect good quality care
At Age UK, we have been calling for wide-ranging reform of the social care system through our Care in Crisis campaign.
As well as ensuring older people are able to access the care they need, we believe that everyone should be able to expect good quality care, whether that’s in their own home or a care home, via the local authority or as a self-funder.
Most recently, we have been campaigning to ensure that all older people in receipt of care are covered by the Human Rights Act, and we are delighted that we have made some big progress on this.
Because it was quite clear in this Panorama investigation that human rights were not in the mindset of the carers committing those abuses, they forgot they were dealing with real people who have families, personalities and characters. Many of whom survived the Second World War, raised children, worked hard and contributed to their communities throughout their lives.
The care that some received was, at best, treating them like children, and at worst, completely dehumanising. No one should ever have to expect to wait over an hour to be taken to the toilet and then be told to just use an incontinence pad. Nor should anyone be ridiculed, sworn at or slapped while supposedly being cared for.
The programme was distressing because it could have been our mum or our dad, our partner or another loved one – even ourselves – in that situation. All of us want to be able to live our final years with dignity and a good quality of life.
One man on Panorama, whose loved one had experienced neglect in Orchid View care home, put it aptly when he said that: ‘We can put a man on the moon, rockets in space, reach Mars, but we can’t look after the elderly.’
Why neglect is still taking place
Why is it then that abuse and neglect are still taking place? The answer is a complicated one.
It involves poor staffing levels in some homes, inadequate training and support, not listening and learning from complaints and care homes remaining ‘behind closed doors’ – cut off from the community.
The Care Quality Commission remains under-resourced and unable to adequately inspect every care home. There also needs to be more support for whistleblowers to come forward about poor care and their complaints to be investigated swiftly and properly.
The Government will point to the Care Bill and the measures contained within that will improve the quality of care, and rightly so. There will be minimum standards for training, a new principle of wellbeing at the heart of the care system and improved safeguarding.
But there is still a long way to go before this problem is properly addressed and at least some of it can still be attributed to the chronic underfunding of social care and the impact that cuts to local authority budgets have had.
There was a rallying cry in Panorama from Lynne Phair, an independent consultant nurse, who said: ‘Things will only change because society finally says we will not tolerate this anymore.’
And change they must, or we can expect to see more Panorama-style investigations in the near future. That, we should all agree, is utterly unacceptable.
Find out more about Care in Crisis.
If you are concerned about poor quality care for you or a loved one, contact Age UK’s advice line on 0800 169 65 65.