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Abuse and Neglect
A Radio 4 ‘File on Four’ programme earlier in the month titled ‘Elderly care: neglected questions’ made for distressing listening. It reported on the recent collapse of a longstanding investigation into care home abuse at homes in South Wales. The investigation, called Operation Jasmine, was the biggest criminal investigation into care home abuse in UK history. One of the key factors it revealed was an anomaly regarding offences of abuse and neglect against frail and vulnerable people in care. To sum up briefly, for people subject to the Mental Health Act 1983 who are being abused, there is a specific offence of ill-treatment or neglect by care home staff, where the person is receiving treatment for mental disorder (section 127). They do not have to be detained under the Act. For people who lack mental capacity to manage their own safety, there is a specific offence under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 of ill-treatment and wilful neglect of a person who lacks capacity (section 44). This can apply to anyone caring for someone who lacks mental capacity, not just in a care home. However for people who are not receiving care for a mental disorder, or who do have capacity to make decisions about their own safety, it becomes much more difficult to identify a specific criminal offence where vulnerable and frail people are being neglected.
The programme highlighted a number of other barriers to prosecutions for neglect of vulnerable people. These are very frustrating and distressing for relatives and loved ones, and the police. These include:
- Vulnerable people being witnesses
- Physical evidence of wilful neglect
- Proving someone was wilfully neglectful
Even in the cases described in the programme in South Wales where there were some obviously shocking physical signs of neglect, the prosecution case collapsed because the owner of one of the care homes involved was not fit to stand trial. The Government’s Care Bill 2013-2014 is starting its passage through Parliament just now, and many see this as an opportunity to try and strengthen proposals around safeguarding adults from neglect and abuse. The bill contains proposals for ensuring local safeguarding boards are operating in every area. The lessons of what happened in South Wales suggests there’s going to be pressure to do a whole lot more. You can listen to the whole Radio 4 ‘File on Four’ programme on a BBC podcast HERE.