Abuse and neglect complaints increase in Essex care homes

David Whiteley investigates abuse in care homes in the east of England

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Allegations of abuse of elderly people in Essex care homes have risen by more than 300 in a year, a BBC Freedom Of Information request has revealed.

The allegations total 1,398 in 2011-12, up from 1,045 in 2010-11.

The largest increases concern neglect of residents, up from 554 to 708, and physical abuse, up from 238 to 324.

Essex County Council said the increase in "safeguarding" allegations indicated people were not prepared to tolerate abuse or poor care practices.

"Essex encourages people to share their concerns and allow us to look at those issues to see if they are safeguarding matters or need redirecting elsewhere," a spokesman said.

Allegations may be passed to a complaints process, the police or environmental health.

The council said 299 allegations of abuse had been upheld in 2011/12 up from 149 in 2010/11.

"Professionals assess the concerns to decide what action needs to be taken," the spokesman said.

BBC Inside Out also looked at the way the Care Quality Commission (CQC), responsible for monitoring care homes, looked at the problem of abuse.

The CQC said its prime concern was compliance with a national set of 28 criteria.

Robust action needed

"These range from involving residents in discussions and decisions on how they are cared for, to keeping accurate records and storing them safely," the watchdog said.

"Failure to meet standards is not necessarily an indication of abuse."

Local authorities and safeguarding boards have responsibility to protect vulnerable adults from abuse and neglect and the CQC helps by passing on any relevant concerns it finds.

The CQC is obliged to inspect care homes once a year but has told the BBC it cannot guarantee this will happen in Essex.

"Compliance teams are working hard to complete this year's inspection programme by April 2013," it said.

Essex has 468 care homes and since 1 April 2012 just over 250 had been inspected but there were no figures on follow up visits to see if non-compliance had been remedied.

Gary Fitzpatrick from the charity Action on Elder Abuse claimed that in some areas in the UK 80% of care homes were non-compliant in some form.

"When you've got care homes that chronically are not delivering - the care quality is poor and the quality of life of those people is appalling, then we clearly need urgent and robust action," he said.

The CQC told the BBC that "where people are at immediate risk we can use our urgent powers".

Inside Out in the East BBC One on Monday at 19:30 GMT.

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