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Change in the law is needed to protect vulnerable people

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Care workers also deserve better pay and training to prevent future cases of abuse and neglect.
Care Home Funding Advocates meet so many care workers who make a real difference to those which they care for.

Calls to press ahead with plans to hold corporate bodies – boards, directors and senior managers – to account for any abuse or neglect that is found to have taken place in care homes and hospitals are no surprise. However, all those who work in the sector will know that unlimited fines and criminal sanctions is not enough.

Speaking in parliament last week, Paul Burstow MP, the former care services minister, introduced a new bill to amend the Health and Social Care Act 2008 to include a new offence of corporate neglect. He said the “new law would act as a deterrent” and all health and social care professionals will be hoping this is true. They will also probably be pleased by the apparent pace of change, coming so soon after the findings of the Winterbourne View investigation were published.

 

As an abuse lawyer who regularly handles claims on behalf of children and vulnerable adults who have been resident in care homes or other institutions, I have heard too many accounts of abuse that for some reason or other have been unheeded by those in charge. This is unacceptable and a change in the law is urgently needed to address this.

 

However, wider cultural and social issues must also be considered. In particular, society’s view of care work is not helpful. Jobs are usually underpaid and under trained, which means there is a serious lack of skills. It can also lead to unsuitable people taking care jobs, based on basic CRB checks, because nothing else is available.

 

We need a complete shift in the way care workers are viewed by society by recognising them as professionals. They should be paid and trained as such. Of course, we all know money is tight, but if society is truly shocked by Winterbourne View and wants to prevent it from happening again, we need to find a way of funding this.

Much as we might like to think of Winterbourne View as a one-off case, the abuse survivors I meet remind me that unfortunately it is not.

We may need to look at private provision of such services. While some scepticism of such ventures is understandable, private nursing care and private education has demonstrated its ability to attract skilled professionals, so why shouldn’t private social care be the same?

A move to introduce more scrutiny, including CCTV cameras, in all institutions would also probably be helpful. We are currently acting for an abuse survivor who would have had no claim at all were it not for the fact a care worker’s abusive acts were captured on film by a hidden camera. Indeed, the scandal at Winterbourne View was exposed in a similar way, by the BBC’s Panorama. The exposure of such abuses, as distasteful and disheartening as they are, is serving an important purpose in helping to force change.

People in care homes are vulnerable – they cannot easily complain and when they do, their testimony may be ignored because it seems incredulous. For this reason, the protection provided by care homes may need to be even more tightly guarded and tougher sanctions alone are unlikely to be enough.

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