Northern Ireland

Increase in misconduct of those working in NI social care

Elderly person
Image caption There were 95 complaints against social workers and social care workers last year

An increasing number of people working in social care in NI have been found guilty of misconduct.

The latest case involves a Ballymena care assistant who physically and verbally abused elderly residents.

From April 2010 to March 2011 there were 95 complaints against social workers and social care workers - a figure that has almost tripled in the past two years.

There are more than 14,000 workers registered in NI.

As a result of those complaints, 14 people have been brought before the Northern Ireland Social Care Council's misconduct committee.

The charges include physically abusing vulnerable adults and leaving them unclothed and unsupervised.

The council's chief executive Brendan Johnston said people should be encouraged and not intimidated about giving evidence.

'Concerns'

"We would always want to ensure that where people have a complaint or there is an issue of serious concern that it is referred to us," he said.

"From time to time you uncover something that has happened that really causes you some concerns.

"It's really important that people come forward with concerns that they have about any member of staff who doesn't live up to the high standards.

"I mean members of the public, I mean employers and I mean fellow employees."

Mr Johnston said he believed the recent introduction of compulsory registration to include childcare workers and social care wokers in adult homes was keeping a tighter control on a system that can be open to abuse.

He highlighted that "the vast majority of social care workers are very dedicated and committed".

"They deliver a service that's very highly valued and it's really important that you can depend on what you are going to get if you are in care," he said.

The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA), the Patient Client Council, individual trusts and the health board all provide ways for people to complain about the care of a loved one.

'Disjointed'

Joan Harbinson, the older people's advocate, described the complaints procedure as "cumbersome" and said it only deters people from making complaints about the care a family member was receiving.

"I think at the moment it is very disjointed because we have a number of different organisations who receive, if you like, different sorts of complaints," she said.

"I think that if you could operate a system where there was someone that could receive the complaint independent of the homes, that might actually be very helpful."

Lily Kerr of the Northern Ireland Social Care Council, which monitors and regulates the conduct of home care workers, said: "I believe the council has a very robust system for dealing with complaints.

"But I am concerned about hearing reports that people (making complaints) are passed from one place to another."

'Fear of retribution'

One woman, who did not want to be identified, has both her parents in nursing care. Her mother is seriously ill and needs round the clock attention.

While she appreciates caring for the elderly is difficult, she said families should be allowed to voice their opinions and make complaints without fear of retribution.

"Nobody chooses to put their parents into a nursing home and it is a reluctant decision," she said.

"You make a choice, which is the best choice you can make at the time, and I have just so many concerns about different aspects of their care and the system is so hard to work.

"The system is complicated - very, very complicated - and I have tried everybody under the sun and everybody passes you on to somebody else and they mean well but they pass you on and it is just a nightmare."

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