Thursday, 11 October 2012

Vulnerable AND valuable

The headline yesterday was: 

"Care home staff 'abused elderly': six arrests made

A former matron and five nurses who worked for a care home have been arrested over 'serious allegations' of mistreatment and neglect of 'very vulnerable' elderly residents."

You may remember I was writing about the importance of recognising that all, including disabled people, should be treated with respect (Do not resuscitate) and valued as persons. The Telegraph report illustrates the danger of abuse of the vulnerable, even in places where they are meant to be cared for. The nursing home in question specialises in caring for severe Alzheimer's sufferers, who are, in my view, in the front line for abuse - which, at its extreme, includes euthanasia.

"Chief Superintendent Richard Bayly, from Lancaster Constabulary, said the 'serious allegations' involved 'very vulnerable, elderly residents' and regarded 'a significant number of cases'.
"He said: 'These arrests are a culmination of a thorough investigation into serious allegations of mistreatment of residents at Hillcroft Slyne nursing home.
"'The inquiry is complicated and we have a team of specialist detectives working on this case who are also offering support to those families who may have had loved ones identified as being allegedly mistreated.'
"In May, Lancashire County Council's social care department made police aware of a complaint they had received about the level of care provided to some residents at the home."

After my "Do not resuscitate" post, a severely disabled friend wrote to me about her own experience
"I've been ill for most of the time for the last 3 years, and have spent all too much time in hospital.  The last time was in July 2012, and I came across a nurse with a sickly sweet voice, but who bullied me mercilessly.  She knew that if I swallowed tablets by mouth I would retch and/or be sick, but refused to use the canula, which had been put in (with much difficulty) on doctors' orders only the previous day.  She shouted at me, and refused to use the canula.  I became quite afraid of her.  I phoned my carer and he came immediately.  He managed to put her in her place while remaining entirely polite and calm, but it was a very unpleasant experience.  It made me think of the terrible predicament of those who have no one to stand up for them, or who cannot communicate, or are very elderly, perhaps with dementia. It is such a scary situation for all of us."

My friend is a lovely person who struggles with multiple disabling conditions with amazingly good grace. Yet even for her the sense of helplessness faced with insensitive caring was enough to scare her, and clearly not everyone is fortunate enough to have a competent advocate to call on in time of crisis. As a country, we really must heed the warning signs of a trend, despite Paralympic euphoria, of diminishing our regard for the disabled. Just over a month ago, there was great optimism that an irreversible change of attitude had taken place. If we are not vigilant, it will be more than reversed: disabled new borns and vulnerable elderly will be regarded as legitimately disposable. Then we will have entered a morally bankrupt "brave new world".


  1. It seems Michael that in a society where people have become obsessed with pets, treating them like children, that the elderly, sick and disabled have been usurped and become disposable. Sometimes when I think that 'you wouldn't treat an animal like that', I know it's probably true.............. and very sad.

    1. It's true, Pauline. I don't know if you saw that nutritionist recently on Dragon's Den promoting ice cream for dogs. When Hilary Devey invested in her, she cited examples in Miami to prove "there's a market out there". Then I heard a radio programme on Friday called "Hairpieces for horses and clogs for dogs" about the absurd amounts people spend on their animals. It is sad, because caring for the vulnerable should be our priority. I suspect we spend more on luxury pet products than we do to feed hungry children.
      For me the "you wouldn't treat an animal like that" is ultimately sinister when it's used as an argument for euthanasia. The difference should be that you'd take more care and spend more money to ease a person's pain at the end.

  2. Apologies for my swerving off topic, but I thought of you today while listening again to a lecture on human dignity by the Lutheran bioethicist Gilbert Meilaender. It's a talk I imagine you would enjoy; you can find the recording here at the Veritas forum website.

  3. Yes Michael it's a sad reflection on our society that time and time again we hear of horror stories of things that have taken place in Care Homes, places that like it or not, many of us will end up in.
    Only this morning I commented to Christine of how easy it can be to abuse clients in such places, for there is often limited choice when it comes to appointing staff who amongst other things undertake unsupervised personal care with people, some of whom cannot communicate in any way.
    Lower paid workers who have little in the way of formal qualifications are often some of the only people attracted to working in support roles. I know it is a broad sweeping statement and might not necessarily matter, but sadly it is true.
    Time and time again when I worked for an Agency in Sheffield I was asked to undertake intimate care work with elderly ladies whilst full time staff stood chatting. I always asked the lady concerned if she minded having a man and quite frequently the answer was "yes".
    Quite naturally I then went back to the female staff who were usually still chatting. They were not happy when I told them I was unable to undertake the set task, and if questioned by them I sometimes had to resort to assertiveness in order to make sure that a female client got the service they deserved and were also incidentally paying for.
    People often do not in my opinion receive the dignity and respect they deserve in residential institutions and despite inspections and legislation abuse (verbal and physical) goes on. Scary isn't it. Rob

  4. Yes, it is scary, Rob - especially for those who have no one to speak up for them, such as family or friends nearby.
    Although I don't dismiss qualifications, I think we place too much faith in the bits of paper rather than in the character of the people. Even in the case you cited presumably the full-time staff had their qualifications, whereas to ask your question required not training so much as sensitivity. I'm not sure how much that can be trained into someone. Perhaps we need to reassess how we select people for the caring professions, and instead of asking for good GCSEs, A levels and even degrees we should look for characters that are sensitive and resilient.