17 May 2018
Assembly Members will debate the Older People’s Commissioner’s latest Impact and Reach report on 22 May 2018, as the current Commissioner, Sarah Rochira’s six year term comes to an end in June 2018.
The Commissioner has also produced a Legacy report, alongside her annual Impact and Reach Report, and was questioned on her recent work and legacy by the Health, Social Care and Sport (HSCS) Committee on 9 May 2018 (available to view on Senedd.tv). This post looks at some of the key issues highlighted.
Quality of life in care homes
The Commissioner discussed her extensive follow-up work on her care home review, and noted that while there has been good progress in some areas, she was concerned that there did not appear to be visible action across Wales in relation to a number of other key areas, including:
- Reablement and rehabilitation
- Falls prevention
- Dementia training
- Antipsychotic medication
- Medication reviews
- Quality of Life and engagement
The Commissioner has sought further evidence from public bodies on these issues and told the HSCS Committee that she is sure there will be a further stage of scrutiny on the review in future to pursue progress.
Human rights and independent advocacy
The Commissioner states in her annual report that there is little understanding, or practical application, of human rights or a rights-based approach, despite the duties placed upon public bodies under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014, and:
‘This often leads to poor decision making and places vulnerable people at risk of harm’.
The Commissioner states that denial of a right to family life, free association, and liberty, as well as degrading and inhuman treatment, all feature in the case work she receives, and it is clear that individuals often face a significant power imbalance when raising issues and complaints with public bodies. The Commissioner believes this is one of the reasons that the role of independent advocacy is so crucial to the delivery of public services within Wales. The Commissioner has just published a new report on access to independent advocacy, which concludes, ‘it is clear that a significant number of older people are unable to access independent advocacy, both more generally and in relation to new legislative duties’, and ‘many older people are still struggling to have a voice’.
Opposition amendments have been tabled to the debate motion, calling for the Welsh Government to urgently address these concerns on access to independent advocacy, and to introduce a bill of rights for older people. The Commissioner told the HSCS Committee that she has called for a bill to be introduced, but the Welsh Government’s view is that, for a range of reasons, including the impact of Brexit, such legislation is not going to be possible in this term of office.
The Commissioner states in her annual report that an area of growing concern is the increasing number of cases of neglect of older people being recorded, particularly those relating to avoidable serious pressure sores.
‘Through my casework and my review of many high-profile neglect cases in Wales involving older people, I have seen a worrying pattern emerging’.
The Commissioner says there is currently a frustrating lack of accountability for those who have a responsibility to care for our most vulnerable citizens. She says one of the criticisms of the current system is that the evidential bar is set very high to successfully prosecute criminal cases of neglect, even when a person has died because of failures to provide proper care. The Commissioner has therefore continued to call for legislation to be reviewed and amended to prevent this growing problem from continuing to go unchallenged by our legal system.
Issues arising from the Social Services and Well-being (SSW) Act
The Commissioner highlighted areas that need attention to the HSCS Committee, including:
- Access to independent advocacy (as noted above)
- Eligibility for services – The Commissioner said Age Alliance Wales has been tracking the SSW Act and has real concerns that the bar for eligibility is too high and people are being wrongly denied care and support services.
- Support for carers – She quotes figures that there are 370,000 carers in Wales, and despite carers having a right to an assessment and support under the SSW Act, only 6,200 carers had an assessment last year and of those, only 1,200 went on to get an offer of support. The Commissioner has recently published a report Rethinking Respite, and said many of our carers are on their knees and in need of more support.
‘If our carers fall, our public services fall’
Article by Amy Clifton, National Assembly for Wales Research Service