Britain, like much of the developed world, is in the midst of a demographic shift in which people aged over 60 represent one of the fastest growing sections of society.
Better diets, healthcare and living conditions and are contributing to increased longevity. According to Government figures, 10m UK people are aged more than 65. Latest forecasts are for 5½m more elderly in 20 years and for around 19m by 2050.
Within this, there are currently three million people aged more than 80. Forecasts indicate that this number is expected to almost double by 2030 and reach eight million by 2050. While one-in-six of the UK population are currently aged 65 and over, one-in-four will be by 2050.
Dramatic demographic changes create market opportunities and we are also witnessing significant expansion in the residential care sector. Many of these new enterprises offer the latest care techniques such as sensory gardens or memory murals, especially designed for people living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
This is very good news for older people and their families who naturally want the best for them. Dynamic new enterprises with modern, purpose-built care homes represent the future in caring for our elderly. They also signal the end of older, and often, inadequate premises converted from other uses.
However, it is in everyone’s interests that this rapid expansion does not dilute standards of care or create too many inexperienced managers and staff dealing with the complex health and emotional challenges of vulnerable and confused older people
As with any growing market sector, the expansion in residential care is leading to big-budget marketing campaigns designed to give families confidence that their elderly relatives will receive the highest possible standards of treatment and care, particularly where sizeable fees are involved.
Overall, standards in UK care remain high but in some exceptional cases substandard care; neglect; abuse or cruelty can lead to considerable pain and suffering among frail and vulnerable patients.
Having elderly relatives cared for in a specialist home is among the last needs that families can meet. Where there have been significant failings, it is understandable that they may wish to seek legal redress where an elderly relative has suffered, or died, and it can be shown to have been avoidable.
In England, when choosing a care home, families should always the try to read the latest report into the establishment by the Care Quality Commission which is responsible for checking that care homes meet rigorous national standards laid down by law.
If families do fear that all may not be well with their relative, there are symptoms, which can signify deeper neglect. These include malnutrition, dehydration, poor personal hygiene and dirty, untidy or unsafe living conditions. Other warning signs tend to include new allergies, sudden weight loss, poor communication and bed sores.
Negligence in care homes is rare and one should not be misled by sensationalist headlines. When is does happen it often manifests as incidents including mismanagement of the medical reports; catheterization errors; dehydration mistakes; mismanagement of medical history documents; incorrect medication or dosage; incorrect diagnosis; errors in transportation or simple errors that make accidents more likely such as wet floors or lose carpets.
It is up to all of us both running care homes, and representing families of relatives who have suffered unnecessarily to highlight these problems when they do occur. Residents, families, care providers and professionals can and must work together to provide a safe, dignified environment.
It could be our future that depends on it.
Partner | Clinical Negligence and Catastrophic Injury
Harrowells LLP | Moorgate House | Clifton Moorgate | York | YO30 4WY
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