Law Firm Calls For Improved Reporting Of Elder Abuse

Family's Official Complaints Upheld By Council

08.04.2011

Medical law and patients' rights experts at the North East office of Irwin Mitchell are calling for improved reporting systems to help stamp out abuse and neglect in care homes.

The appeal came after the national firm was contacted for help by the family of Monica Robson, who died in February 2007 aged 86, shortly after leaving Close House Nursing and Residential Care Home, near Hexham, where they say she received 'unacceptable and distressing' levels of care.

Mrs Robson's two daughters Eileen and Marie, with grandson Chris Elliott, have called on elder abuse experts at Irwin Mitchell solicitors for help in holding Close House to account and in trying to prevent what they describe as 'cruel and inhumane' treatment happening to other vulnerable pensioners.

The family's complaints against Close House include:

  • Development and subsequent poor management of pressure sores (pressure ulcers)
  • Tears to Mrs Robson's skin
  • Mrs Robson left in appalling levels of cleanliness
  • Inadequate and antiquated care facilities. Instead of addressing the family's concerns, Close House evicted her just two weeks before she died

A Gateshead Council inspection upheld official complaints made by the family in the areas including: personal hygiene, moving and handling, skin integrity/pressure ulcers, pain relief, heating and hot water provision and poor procedure and record keeping, and communication with Mrs Robson. In addition it partially upheld complaints regarding bruising of arms & legs, nutrition & constipation.

Mrs Robson's daughters noticed the tears to their mother’s skin, bruising, and poorly-managed pressure sores for the first time in June 2006, which were spotted after she was left in such a state of uncleanliness that they had to plead with Close House to let them bathe her themselves.

The family says Mrs Robson, who was paralysed by strokes and unable to move or speak, was left, often overnight, lying in her own urine and faeces, as it seeped into the inadequately-dressed pressure sore at the base of her spine. Proper procedure regarding care of pressure sores was not followed and the sore was allowed to develop to Grade Four, the deepest, most severe grade.

In addition to her pressure ulcers, the family also became concerned that Mrs Robson was  not being given the correct types and quantities of food recommended by the relevant professional bodies and, on one occasion, they found a staff member trying to feed Mrs Robson without having put her dentures in for her.

Angela Kirtley, Medical Law and Patients' Rights Expert at Irwin Mitchell, said: "We see far too many cases of elderly people, like Monica Robson, who receive inadequate care in hospitals or care homes which can seriously endanger their health and cause unnecessary distress to them and their families. This can create a situation which forces elderly people, often in their eighties and nineties, to relocate causing even more stress.

"Family members who are faced with issues of neglect in care homes are often afraid to report their concerns for fear of causing trouble and in worst case scenarios making the situation worse for their loved ones. Members of staff who witness abuse can also face concerns about the possible consequences for their careers if they take any action.

"Situations faced by Monica Robson and her family are absolutely unacceptable and no one should have to live like that. An improved reporting system should ensure the protection of residents, their family and friends and employees who raise concerns about the level of care being provided."

Mrs Robson's grandson, Chris Elliott, added: "Aside from the genuine efforts of a few of the staff, the overall care which my grandmother received from this so-called care home was absolutely appalling. In the end the Social Services department of my grandmother's council in Gateshead investigated Close House and upheld 10 areas of complaint we had made against the home.

"As with many relatives, we thought everything was fine until we had cause to spend enough time in the home to discover the truth. We are concerned that through the fronts presented by homes like Close House, many more relatives will never realise the suffering their loved one is going through, even if they visit regularly.

"Families don't give up the care of their loved ones lightly. They choose care homes on the understanding and trust that their loved ones, who can often be very vulnerable people, will be protected from harm and cared for properly. Through a mixture of what we believe to have been deception and incompetence Close House let us down in the worst possible way and we are bringing this case in the hope we can help prevent other vulnerable old people and their families from having to face the same terrible situation we had to contend with.

"Elderly people are currently not given the respect and protection they deserve. If Monica had been a child, instead of just more helpless than one, what happened to her would be a national scandal. The horror of it is something we will have to live with for the rest of our lives.

"We had repeatedly raised our concerns, always trying to be constructive and positive despite the great emotional strain involved. I was eventually granted a five-hour meeting with the owner of Close House and I had believed we agreed a way to resolve issues and move forward, including the commencement of proper record keeping and compliance with Department of Health National Minimum Standards regulations & guidelines.

"Instead of honouring this agreement, Close House served notice on my grandmother, giving her only four weeks to leave the premises. It was in the depths of winter and she was an 86-year-old lady paralysed with strokes and unable to move or speak.

"Thankfully St Catherine's care home in Newcastle stepped in and offered her a place, but her GP had warned just a few weeks beforehand that even a short journey would be too much for her. Despite St Catherine’s excellent and vastly superior care my grandmother died a few weeks later.”

Angela Kirtley added: "It is beyond question that older people are entitled to expect the same standard of treatment in a care home as any other person in any other setting. By giving constructive feedback and, where necessary, making a complaint, elderly people and their families can help to make sure that this is a reality in our ageing population. Anyone concerned about the level of treatment being provided by a care home should not be afraid to speak up, no matter if they are a resident, a family member or an employee."

Contact our care & nursing home claims team for a free no obligation confidential chat about making a claim if you or a loved has suffered abuse or neglect whilst in a care. Alternatively visit our Elder Abuse Claims page for more information.