Human Rights Or Abuse?

Have you read the recent reports about the abysmal care provided in some care homes?  Injustice presses my buttons every time and I find myself chewing over the situation in my mind.  I am a bit of an expert here as I researched extensively when my parents became ill.  Then, when a friend’s father needed additional care, I was asked to go to Plymouth to help the family with their selection.  In one establishment, I was invited into the manager’s office as he thought I worked for the Council and was doing their unannounced assessment.  He said the questions I was asking rang alarm bells.

Later, I took over the admin for some nursing homes and travelled between them.  It’s this insider knowledge that’s troubling me now.  Let me give you an example.  At one home I was seconded to, an old man refused to have a bath.  He refused to have his room cleaned or his bedding changed and, as a result, his room hummed to put it mildly.  I was alarmed when I saw there were spiders nesting beween his bedding and the wall.  The outline of his frail body was imprinted on the sheets and there was mould growing on this old chap’s vest.  He had no visiting family to speak for him, having lost his wife years earlier.

Me, being me, took issue with this gentleman’s care saying that, in my opinion (for what it was worth), his lack of care amounted to abuse.  I got on well with the manager and she explained to me that each individual’s human rights had to be respected.  If this man didn’t want to have his bedding changed or take a bath, that was his choice.  To me, allowing this represented abuse for, after all, he was in there BECAUSE he was unable to care for himself.  I couldn’t leave it alone and, after chatting with this man for a while, he eventually agreed to take a bath.  While he was freshening up (putting it mildly), his bedding was changed and his room cleaned.  How can it ever be right to allow the elderly to remain in conditions that are detrimental to their health?  All he needed was someone to take the time to understand what he was afraid of rather than stand up for his human rights.  Human rights or abuse?

Something else I found rather shocking, yes I did, because it was unexpected, was that new care assistants were shown films about care as part of their induction process.  Fine.  One of these films again championed the human rights of the residents.  Yes, that’s great, as long as they’re not harmful to either the individual or those caring for them.  What bothered me?  The fact that young girls were told that elderly gentlemen were allowed to have pornographic films to watch in their rooms – to deny that would be denial of their human rights.   My questions were: Who would supply these films?  Who would be expected to put the films on?  What behavioural ramifications would this have for the staff, primarily young girls, nursing the residents?

In what seems like another life, as a nurse I reported a care assistant for abuse of an old man at the General Hospital where I was working.  Outcome?  She was moved to a geriatric hospital where patients were even more vulnerable.  When I had been a student at that same hospital, I’d complained about an old lady being put on an ambi lift and dipped in and out of cold water.  The reply:  “You’ll soon get the milk of human kindness knocked out of you, my girl”.

The whole scenario of abuse troubles me deeply, especially as people are living longer requiring additional help and budgets allocated for care of the elderly and vulnerable are being reduced.  What do you think?

  • Janet, this is truly shocking and heartbreaking. I have not had any personal experience of care homes but the stories I have heard tell have been shocking and sadly nothing positive to report. I have a young friend who is doing something himself to make a difference in this regard as he witnessed his grandmother’s swift decline once she was moved into a care home. The very thought of ending life this way makes me shudder. The more people that can make a difference, the better.

    We all need to help do something to make the end of life more gentle and as painfree and dignified as possible. I don’t know the answers though but I am going to share this blog post with my friend Reece.

    Well done for bringing this up, it is such an important issue that needs urgent attention. B

  • I think you raise some alarming points. Even without your fresh take on what constitutes abuse it’s a real concern to know vulnerable older people can so easily fall prey to abuse and have nowhere to turn. I’m so grateful it’s not something we’ve had to experience at first hand in my family and I am not sure I have any easy answers either.

  • So many causes draw our attention, Janet. We have to choose. Do you feel most strongly about this one, or can you do more good by spreading yourself thinly across several. Which will you choose, you are so able, to lend yourself and your considerable skills to one or more? Lucky them!

  • It’s true there are so many instances of injustice which fire me up to do something. Taking your point, Judith, I think I favour a broad brush approach since I may feel called to action at any time I witness a need. Thank you for your vote of confidence – I really hope I can make a difference to someone, somewhere whatever their difficulty.

    There are many genuinely caring people who work in care homes but many are not.

  • Jan

    A post that struck at the heart Janet. Human rights can have a lot to answer for sometimes. My dad was abused in his first home and because of his dementia the police couldn’t make a case to prosecute. In some ways it was lucky because he landed a bed in a wonderful unit run by Guys Hospital. But all care homes should be wonderful instead of few and far between.

    • Jan, I’m sorry your Dad experienced abuse and that no case could be mounted against those responsible – how can that be fair? It was a relief to read that kindness, compassion and understanding were shown to him in the second establishment – that’s how it should be EVERYWHERE. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Janet

  • Shocking Jan that you have come across so many cases of abuse. I agree that the instance with the elderly man being left to rot in his room is terrible. My first ever job was in an elderly people’s home. Thankfully I never came across anything like you have reported here. But that was over 20 years ago. Unfortunately, for our elderly people there is a lot of money to be made out of them and you’re right the systems of care are rarely in place. Thank goodness you have brought this to light and are on the case. Amanda

  • Reece

    I think this is a good article and a number of good points are made. There is often a balance between supporting someone to live in a manner of their own choosing and having to make decisions in their best interest. And, of course, the rights of those who care for them. Proper training in the Mental Capacity Act is not always given, or understood. Perhaps if our society were willing to pay a reasonable amount for care of the elderly we would see intelligent carers becoming the norm, rather than the exception.

    I do not find old men watching pornographic films shocking or even surprising. Most men have sex drives at all ages, and it would be naive and foolish to deny this. The carers can, of course, insist that they are not showing while they are in the room, and usually would.

    • Hi Reece. Thanks for your comments and I absolutely agree about the funding issue and the impact it’s having on the standards of care offered and, in some cases, the quality of staff engaged to provide that care. I take your point on carers absenting themselves when certain films are being shown but, again, I remain surprised that men in such reduced physical circumstances might still require this stimulation. I guess it’s not an aspect of care I’d previously considered. Thanks for sharing your views. Janet

  • A very good article again, Janet, and I love how it shows your kind and caring qualities come to the fore. Very Cancerian to be fired up to take action through a basic love of humanity. Lovely, Sally

  • Reece

    Hi Janet,

    Indeed – you wouldn’t believe those randy old men!