When your relative goes into care, you hope they are going to be well looked after. There may, however, be signs of abuse and neglect in care homes. If you suspect this is happening to your relative, what should you do?
Many care homes provide excellent care, but sadly this is not the case in all homes. Today’s article is from Veronica Male, Chartered Legal Executive and part of the Elderly and Vulnerable Client Unit at Tollers Solicitors. Veronica specialises in cases of care home negligence.
Signs of abuse and neglect in care homes
Having a relative in a care home myself, I understand the concern families have about whether their relative will be safe.
When visiting, I would always recommend that you go to see your relative without arranging this in advance with the care home. Turning up unannounced enables you to see the care home as it is. Go at different times of the day, so that you see how your relative is cared for by a number of different carers.
Remember, it may be difficult for your relative to tell you that they have been abused. They may be unable to communicate, distressed, or so frightened by the abuser that they are too scared to say.
Warning signs of abuse
When you visit, keep in the back of your mind the following signs that could indicate your relative is suffering abuse:
- Listen – Listen to how residents are spoken to by staff. They should of course be treated with respect and kindness. If a resident does not want to do something, such as go to the dining room for lunch, staff should seek to gently persuade them or make alternative arrangements to accommodate them. If staff are rude or abusive to one resident, they are likely to be the same with your relative. Your relative may confide in you, though, so take what they say seriously.
- Look – Can you see bruises or burns on your relative that are not adequately explained? If they have suffered broken bones, do the circumstances make sense or could this have been the result of abuse?
- Observe – Arguments and fearfulness: Is your relative always arguing with a particular carer? Do they become withdrawn when a particular carer comes over to attend to them? Has their personality changed? These could be signs that something is wrong and your relative is suffering abuse.
What should you do?
If your relative has suffered physical or verbal abuse, you need to raise the issue with the Adult Safeguarding Team of your Local Council or Local Authority. The abuse may also need to be reported to the police.
Think about whether you also want to report the abuse to the Care Quality Commission in England or the Care and Social Services Inspectorate in Wales. These organisations may decide to undertake an inspection of the home, and their investigations could uncover problems of abuse at the care home. They may liaise with the Local Council as a result. In some cases, it has been known for the Local Council to withdraw care placements, leading to several care homes closing as a result of this collaboration.
Signs of neglect in care homes
Sometimes it can be harder to identify neglect than abuse. Neglect in a care home setting is normally as a result of under staffing or staff lacking specialist knowledge or because of poor management. The effects on your relative can be just as devastating to their health as abuse.
Warning signs of neglect
When you go to visit you might feel something is wrong and yet you can’t quite put your finger on it. Here are a few tips on how to spot neglect:
- The smell – I know it’s not nice to think about, but if you smell strong urine when you visit it is likely that the residents are not having even their basic needs met. If residents are incontinent and are not changed regularly, then the risk of bedsores increases. These can have a dramatic effect on your relative’s health. If you notice a urine smell around your relative, ask the staff when your relative was last changed. Explain that they do need changing, and in privacy, of course. Ask for their care plan to be updated so that their pad or clothing can be changed more regularly.
- Calls for help or call bells – How quickly are they answered by staff? Can your relative access their call bell, or has it been put out of reach?
- Weight loss – Has your relative lost a lot of weight? Are they having the right help with eating? Has a GP been called in to investigate weight loss?
- Dehydration – If your relative suffers frequent urinary tract infections, this could be dehydration and the carers may have failed to ensure your relative is drinking enough. Look around when you visit. Is water or juice available and within reach for your relative? And is it in a cup they can actually use?
- Medication – If your relative’s condition has changed, could they have been given an overdose of medication – or has their condition deteriorated because they have not actually been given their medication? How often has the care home’s GP seen your relative and reviewed their medication? And are the medication charts accurate and up-to-date?
- Access – Are the doors security coded so that staff accompany residents when accessing different floors? Are the entrance and exit points of the premises secured to stop vulnerable residents wandering off and being exposed to harm? Are the fire exits in good condition?
What should you do?
Initially, if you feel the neglect can be resolved with improved care, complain to the care manager and ask what steps they are going to take to make sure this does not happen again. They should investigate your complaint and amend your relative’s care plan to ensure your concerns and your relative’s needs are addressed.
You may also want to report the neglect to the Care Quality Commission in England or the Care And Social Services Inspectorate in Wales. Although these organisations do not investigate individual instances of abuse, your report could lead to a routine inspection of the care home being brought forward or a more in-depth inspection taking place.
If your relative has failed to have the correct medication, or been hospitalised as a result of neglect, you need to raise the issue with the Adult Safeguarding Team of your Local Council. The Council or Local Authority should then put in place a safeguarding alert; this will ensure that the Council monitors your relative’s care and further mistakes are avoided.
As a result of neglect your relative’s care needs may increase and change, and the impact of abuse on your relative can of course be significant. You may need advice from a care home negligence specialist on how to make a claim for compensation for your relative’s injuries, to help them recover from the impact of the abuse and potentially to fund their increased care needs.