23/12/2016 08:07 GMT | Updated 24/12/2017 05:12 GMT

Elder Abuse - A Forgotten Human Rights Issue?

Highwaystarz-Photography via Getty Images

Last Saturday (10th December) marked Human Rights Day. Instigated by the UN, the day encourages people across the globe to "stand up for someone's rights today".

In the UK, human rights are often seen as an international issue - one enacted in dusty prisons in foreign lands - rather than one that affects us closer to home. However, it can be argued that older people in the UK are one significant part of the population that routinely has its human rights denied...

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

The answer to a question recently tabled in parliament revealed that up to 11,000 care home residents are not being properly fed, or left without food and drink. And this sort of neglect is routine in care homes up and down the UK. It doesn't get much more basic than the right to food and water, and yet this most fundamental need is being denied to older people every day. And it's not just neglect that's the problem.

Older people are often actively harmed, often by those who are meant to be caring for them. Such stories are nauseating and all too frequent. The care workers who psychologically tortured dementia patients in Manchester. The nurse in Cornwall who threatened her patient with morphine to shut her up. The carer in Fareham who punched an older gentleman for wetting the bed. These are scenes you may have expected in Victorian ages, not in suburban care homes in Britain in 2016. Is it any wonder then, that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has previously gone on record noting that the treatment of older people in the UK actually meets definitions for torture?

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation.

We all have the right to a family life. Yet older people, especially those living in residential or care homes, often find obstacles put in the way of their relationship with their loved one. This usually manifests itself by their relatives being banned from visiting them, usually because - most inconveniently - they have complained about standards of care. Indeed, so grave is the problem that in October of this year the Care Quality Commission (CQC) released guidance on visiting rights to care homes and stressed that family members should not have to "live in fear" of raising concerns.

Right to life

And in some cases, older people are even denied their right to life. In 2011, we conducted an investigation into the Liverpool Care Pathway. We found cases of DNR orders being placed on patients with no consultation with either the patient or their families, and one instance of a gentlemen who died after a DNR note was mistakenly placed in his file. We compiled this dossier because while the CQC was completing its duties in uncovering the failure of the application of the Liverpool Care Pathway, it was doing very little to actually protect the older people who were in - quite literally - mortal danger.

And unfortunately, there is evidence that this is still the case. The Liverpool Care Pathway was, quite rightly, withdrawn in 2013. However, things still don't seem to have changed that much. Nurses at the Royal London Hospital interviewed by CQC inspectors said they had not been given new advice on the care of potentially palliative patients and were trained to use only the pathway. What this means in practice is that, yet again, euthanasia is slipping in via the backdoor. Older lives - by both some in the medical establishment and in society more widely - are perceived as being worth less than the lives of younger people and thus are more likely to be truncated prematurely. With, it seems, very few repercussions.

For all these reasons and many more, we want people in the UK to stand up for the rights of older people. To find out more, visit: