Elder abuse awareness: the effect of neglect
As World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is being marked around the globe, Partner in the Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury team at Coodes Solicitors, Rachel Pearce discusses how neglect can affect elderly people in care facilities and hospitals, or in their own homes.
The population is living longer than ever before and hospitals and care homes are almost at breaking point. It is becoming increasingly worrying as to what the future holds for our elderly relatives, friends, and indeed, ourselves.
As pressure on hospitals and care homes grows, it often falls to the family, and friends, of an elderly person to ensure that they are getting even the basic level of care from those facilities that they need and deserve. My colleague Julie Hatton wrote about the rise in claims we are handling against care homes in her recent article.
While horrendous cases of abuse in care homes has been brought to our attention, through news stories and television reports, what about the slightly less tangible issue of neglect?
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What is neglect?
Abuse tends to be a deliberate act that can cause harm or risk to an elderly, and vulnerable person.
However, there is no specific legal definition of neglect. It can encompass a wide area, but the Cambridge Dictionary defines neglect as ‘to not give enough care or attention to people or things that are your responsibility’.
Generally, neglect occurs when there is a lack of action, where an elderly person does not receive an adequate level of care and attention, either intentionally or unintentionally. There is no clear legal distinction between intentional and unintentional neglect.
Common examples of elderly neglect
When we are involved in claims that relate the treatment of elderly people, there are many different types of neglect that can arise.
Some examples of elder neglect that we come across include:
- Hospitals and care homes not carrying out proper risk assessments when elderly people are admitted or transferred
- Inadequate handovers between hospitals and care homes resulting in incorrect risk assessments, mismanagement with medication and not being aware of their care needs
- Elderly people seeming thirsty, hungry or dirty and staff not listening to concerns from that person or indeed their relatives as they are very busy and/or short staffed
- Home care staff not staying with elderly people for an adequate amount of time, or not at all, when making a home visit
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Neglect can be very difficult to prove, particularly when family and friends are faced with an inquest after the elderly person has passed away. In these instances, there may be no primary evidence and those giving evidence are unlikely to admit neglect.
However, at the conclusion of an inquest into a death, a neglect/self-neglect rider can be added to the decision, which may include natural causes or an accident. A neglect rider can be added if, on the balance of probability, there has been a gross failure to provide food, drink or medicine to a person in a dependent position. Similarly, if a person has contributed to their own death by failing to take nourishment, obtain medical attention or adequate housing, then a self-neglect rider may be added. There must, however, be proof of a direct causal link between the conduct and cause of death.
Are you worried about a relative or friend and the care they are receiving? If so, you can report it to the service responsible for that person’s care, the local authority, Care Quality Commission or the police. You can also ask for help or advice from Age UK or Action on Elder Abuse or to our Clinical Negligence team, who can support you to get answers.