I have decided to focus this week’s blog on the issue of abuse of vulnerable people in care homes. I was shocked and horrified when I watched Channel 4’s Dispatches programme on Monday evening which showed appalling scenes of physical and emotional abuse of vulnerable, older people in a BUPA care home. Whilst I appreciate there are differences between services for older people and services for people with learning disabilities, both groups are extremely vulnerable and can be treated badly by staff that support them. If you haven’t already watched the documentary, I would strongly urge you to watch it and for staff teams in CMG to discuss what they have seen in their next staff meeting.
We take abuse incredibly seriously in CMG; we train our staff in what abuse means and how to look out for warning signs and we monitor every case of alleged abuse at our safeguarding board every month. As our staff will know, every month we identify lessons to be learnt and these are cascaded throughout the organisation.
Abuse is insidious. Poor practices can creep into even the best services and because subtle changes may happen over time, people may not notice. When I was 19, I spent a summer working as a nursing assistant on an older people’s ward in a psychiatric hospital. Because I didn’t know any better, I didn’t realise how poor the practices were. Elderly people were sat all day in a chair with a fixed table on top which effectively locked them into their seat. Apart from being fed and taken to the toilet, they received no stimulation whatsoever. Staff would sit around a central table smoking, drinking coffee and chatting when they weren’t doing direct personal care tasks. One of the many problems with an abusive culture is that new staff just assume it’s the norm.
I would urge everybody to be vigilant and to trust their instincts and if it doesn’t seem right then you should report it. Fundamentally, we need to treat people we support with dignity and respect. Staff should not treat people in a disrespectful way and we shouldn’t let people sit in soiled pads or dirty clothing. I think one of the biggest issues in services for people with learning disabilities is the ‘challenging behaviour’ which is often treated as ‘naughty’ behaviour and a punitive approach applied like that given to a naughty child. I think people who present challenges are at the highest risk of abuse by staff and we should always be vigilant to make sure any punishment based approach is challenged and stopped.