Care home abuse reveals crisis in ageing UK

Indian summer: Patricia Uberoi says India’s elderly ‘expect to depend on their children’.

The BBC documentary Panorama has exposed shocking neglect in some of Britain’s care homes. As Western populations age rapidly, who should take responsibility for looking after the elderly?

‘The first thing I noticed was an overwhelming odour of urine.’

These were the words of Janice Finch, one of three undercover reporters who investigated two nursing homes for the elderly in the south-west of England. Last night, the BBC’s Panorama revealed the shocking detail of what they had seen.

Overworked staff struggled to cope with immobile residents, compromising their privacy and dignity. One resident was left on a bedpan for 40 minutes. A nurse said she would give a patient morphine to ‘shut her up’.

One reporter did 14 shifts as an assistant without the appropriate checks being carried out. Out of date prescriptions were reused; broken toilet seats, overflowing bins and empty soap dispensers were not dealt with.

For Panorama’s regular viewers, it is depressingly familiar. In 2014, the programme showed residents at two other care homes being slapped, taunted and left in their own waste for hours. Now four in five of Britain’s councils are reportedly struggling to provide adequate care for the elderly.

Life expectancy has advanced in Western societies, so the population is ageing. This has placed increasing demand on care services, pensions and healthcare — all of which are expensive. And the UK’s working age population is now predicted to fall, which will mean the state raises less money in tax.

Family networks have traditionally supported the elderly and vulnerable. But social changes, including new opportunities to travel and work, mean people live further away from their relatives than they used to. Age UK now says 1.2 million older people in the UK are chronically lonely. And in 2011, almost a third of over-65s lived alone.

In Cyprus and much of Spain, Portugal and Greece, in contrast, the figure was below 20%. These countries have stronger cultural traditions built around the extended family. Similarly, sociologist Patricia Uberoi says ‘eyebrows are raised’ if younger generations in India do not look after their elderly.

So who should deal with this neglect?

Who cares wins

The state, say some. Improving standards in care homes requires more money, so governments must increase taxes or working-age immigration. This would pay for more staff, better training and tighter regulation. More CCTV could be installed to check staff are doing their jobs. We are all responsible for looking after the old, and we must contribute to it.

It is families’ responsibility, others respond. Tax revenues are limited. We cannot expect the state or immigrants to do everything: care workers are already overwhelmed: they are paid little to do a vital job in tough circumstances. We all need to take more responsibility for those we care about within our own communities.

You Decide

  1. Would you like to care for an elderly person?
  2. Who is more responsible for care for the elderly: the state or families?

Activities

  1. Think of someone you know who is over 65. What could you learn from them? Write ten interview questions for them. Compare in pairs. If possible, conduct the interview and report what you learnt to your class.
  2. Choose a country which is named in The Huffington Post article under Become An Expert. Conduct some research and write a one-page summary explaining how the elderly are cared for there.

Some People Say...

“We are no more responsible for our family than for anyone else.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m a teenager. Can’t I learn about care homes later in life?
Elderly people you know and care about may be in care homes now — or they may move to one in the near future. And looking after an ageing population also affects people of all ages. Perhaps in a few years from now you may be asked to pay more tax to fund elderly care. And one day you may need care. So how would you like to be treated, who would you like to look after you, and would you be willing to pay more earlier in life to fund decent care in your old age?
What can I do to help older people?
You could volunteer with Age UK — see the link under Become An Expert. Alternatively you could just make sure you visit your older relatives and be nice to them. You could learn a lot from them, and you will miss them when they are gone.

Word Watch

Morphine
A powerful drug prescribed to relieve pain. Dr Peter Holden, a GP and member of the British Medical Association, said he was ‘horrified’ by the idea it would be used to quieten someone.
Checks
For example, checking her references or whether she had a criminal record.
Reportedly
According to the Family and Childcare Trust.
Ageing
There are now 11.6 million people aged 65 or over, and 1.5 million over the age of 85, in the UK — according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Fall
The ONS says the population aged between 16 and 64 — the traditional working age — has remained relatively stable for 40 years in the UK. But it is now projected to decline as the number of children being born has dropped.
Third
According to the 2011 census, the figure was 31%.
Below
According to the European Commission. Only 7.4% of Cyprus’s households consisted of a person over 65 living alone, the lowest figure in the EU; in Romania, this figure was 18.6%.
India
However, reports suggest this culture may be weakening, as more elderly Indians are now moving to retirement homes or living alone.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.