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BMJ. 2007 August 25; 335(7616): 367.
PMCID: PMC1952489

Report highlights abuse of older people's human rights in hospitals and homes

Doctors, managers, and pressure groups have condemned the abuse of older people's human rights in hospitals and care homes, after a highly critical report by peers and MPs.

Urgent legal and cultural changes are needed to stop widespread abuse of older people in these settings, said politicians on the joint select committee on human rights.

After investigating they concluded that older people in hospitals and care homes experienced abuse, sexual assaults, rough treatment, malnutrition, dehydration, bullying, and neglect.

More than a fifth (21%) of care homes did not meet minimum standards of privacy and dignity required, they said, and the MPs criticised the Department of Health and the Ministry of Justice for failing to “provide proper leadership” and guidance about the Human Rights Act 1998 to providers of health and residential care.

MPs called for all healthcare staff to receive targeted and regular training in human rights principles and how they apply to their work. This could be incorporated into existing training programmes—such as ethics or equality and diversity.

The report says, “They [staff] are the people with whom older patients and residents interact every day and upon whom they rely for their basic care, provided with compassion and skill.

“They are also the only people who can really bring about this change in culture on the ground, in hospital wards and care homes up and down the country.”

The British Geriatrics Society, which represents doctors practising geriatric medicine, welcomed the report. Its chief executive, Alex Mair, said, “There is still a tremendous amount to do. Far too often we come across a lack of knowledge and understanding of the importance of the Human Rights Act.

“The society will continue with its dignity campaign and to work with other agencies to improve the situation.”

Gary FitzGerald, chief executive of the charity and pressure group Action on Elder Abuse, called upon the government, regulators, and health and care providers to meet the challenges of the committee's report.

“The committee has rightly described elder abuse as a serious and severe human rights abuse that affects both hospitals and care homes and has called for a comprehensive approach by government, backed by legislation,” said Mr FitzGerald.

Ian Philp, national director for older people's services and neurological conditions, at the Department of Health, said, “This report identifies a range of important issues. We've already started work on a number of initiatives which will help improve dignity and respect for older people, including integrating the inspection, regulation, and complaints systems for health and social care, reviewing adult protection guidance, and the development of a national strategy to improve dementia services. The committee's report gives us a platform on which to move forward.”

Gill Morgan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS organisations, said, “Tackling this requires a joint approach between individual clinicians and managers. All staff must ensure systems are in place to treat all patients with respect and dignity.”

Meanwhile Gordon Lishman, director general of the charity Age Concern, said, “This hard-hitting report gets to the heart of many of the problems older people encounter. The dignity, needs, and wants of older people must be put at the centre of their care.”

Notes

The report, The Human Rights of Older People in Healthcare, is available at www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200607/jtselect/jtrights/156/15602.htm.


Articles from The BMJ are provided here courtesy of BMJ Group