Leading charities highlight inadequacies in Care Bill
Published on 11 September 2013 12:01 AM
Care home and care agency bosses should face criminal charges if they preside over a culture of abuse and neglect, three leading charities working with vulnerable people said on Wednesday.
On the day that a cross-party group of MPs meet Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss their concerns around the inadequacy of safeguarding measures in the Care Bill currently going through Parliament, Age UK, Action on Elder Abuse and Mencap call on the Government to strengthen legal powers to ensure that all older and disabled people are protected from abuse.
The three charities are highlighting inadequacies in several areas of the Bill:
Although the Care Bill imposes for the first time a legal duty for a local authority to investigate if it believes an adult is being abused or at risk of abuse, there's no duty on care providers to inform the local authority if they suspect an adult is at risk.
There is currently no offence of neglect covering vulnerable adults judged to have mental capacity.
This is likely to leave the frail and isolated, but not mentally-incapacitated people, at risk of abuse and neglect. It has also previously meant that charges of neglect were unable to be brought against suspected abusers because doctors were unable to ascertain the victim's mental capacity at the time of the abuse.
If the owner of a care home or care home agency is found to have presided over a culture of abuse and neglect - like that at Winterbourne View - there is currently no sanction that can be brought against them.
Currently even if a local authority reasonably believes that a vulnerable adult is being neglected or abused in their own home, they have no legal right to enter the home.
Charities call for additional safeguards
Age UK, Action on Elder Abuse and Mencap call upon the Prime Minister to ensure that the new Bill gives vulnerable older and disabled people the protection they need by introducing:
- A duty on care providers and other relevant partners to inform the local authority when they suspect an adult is at risk.
- A power of access to allow local authorities to carry out a confidential interview with a vulnerable adult believed to be at risk of abuse or neglect, when a third party is denying access to that person. This would only be able to be used as a last resort and would need to be applied for through the magistrates' court. A similar power already exists in Scotland.
- A new offence of Corporate Neglect should be introduced to sanction care home or care agency managers who allow a culture of abuse and neglect to continue in their organisations.
- A new offence of ill treatment or neglect should be introduced to extend protection to vulnerable adults who have mental capacity.
An ideal opportunity to protect vulnerable adults
Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General of Age UK, said: ‘The Care Bill presents the ideal opportunity to ensure that vulnerable adults living in our community are given the best possible protection from neglect and abuse.
'We welcome the advances that the Bill already makes in safeguarding older and disabled people but with these additional changes, that protection could be so much more effective.'
Gary FitzGerald, Chief Executive of Action on Elder Abuse, said: ‘While we have made progress over the last few years in protecting older people from neglect and abuse we must do more. Too many very vulnerable older people suffer dreadful treatment at the hands of abusers who simply get away with it.
‘The Care Bill gives an opportunity to strengthen the law, ensure justice for victims and their families, and send a message to those who abuse, or make profit from abuse, that their actions will not be tolerated and will have serious consequences.'
Jan Tregelles, Chief Executive of Mencap, said: ‘We must not miss this opportunity to make sure the law around safeguarding is robust enough.
‘Time after time we have witnessed how gaps in safeguarding provision have been one of the factors in serious abuse scandals involving people with a learning disability, most recently Winterbourne View. While we welcome the proposals set out in the Care Bill to strengthen safeguarding, we believe they must go further.'
The delegation is led by Paul Burstow MP and includes Sarah Rochira (Older People's Commissioner for Wales), Nick Smith MP, Sarah Wollaston MP, Baroness Greengross and Gary FitzGerald (Chief Executive of Action on Elder Abuse).