Mistreatment in care homes

Legal expert Susan Brown questions why in the 21st century we still see mistreatment of the vulnerable elderly in residential care homes
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Residential care for the elderly has had a very bad press recently. Many people were horrified at a  BBC Panorama programme where undercover filming at The Old Deanery in Braintree, one of the largest care homes in England, showed care workers  mocking and taunting residents suffering from dementia, one care worker slapping a woman, and residents who required assistance to get to the toilet having their requests for help ignored and then being left in soiled beds for hours.

The West Sussex coroner held following an inquest last year that there was “institutionalised abuse” at a nursing care home in Copthorne and that five residents in their 70s and 80s died as a result of neglect and poor treatment. In one case, when the resident needed to be transferred to hospital, the manager is reported as commenting on looking at her medical administration records “we can’t send her to hospital with those. They will shut us down”, and to have ordered that the records be shredded. This was a home in an affluent part of Sussex where the fees were more than £3,000 a month.

When I was asked to write a piece concentrating on the issue of mistreatment in care homes, it occurred to me that I would be very surprised to be asked to write about mistreatment of children in schools in the 21st century. The fact that we  regularly see news reports of the mistreatment of the vulnerable elderly in residential care homes is indicative of a real problem. I am sure the experience of the majority of residents in the majority of care homes is nothing like the images we saw in Panorama, but  as a lawyer handling personal injury and clinical negligence claims, the only occasions when I have any dealings with care homes tend to be when something has gone badly wrong and as a result either a resident or a member of staff has suffered injury or harm.

The most common types of claim we see are:

  • pressure sores – also known as bedsores or pressure ulcers – if severely disabled bedridden people are not regularly turned and repositioned, pressure sores will develop. It should be part of any care regime to have a programme in place to ensure that this is done.
  • injuries caused by falls, either falling out of bed or falling while being transferred e.g. from bed to wheelchair.
  • dehydration or malnutrition due either to failure to provide regular food or water or failure to ensure that the person is eating and drinking regularly
  • symptoms resulting from errors in medication or failure to ensure that the correct dosage is taken at the correct time.

Clearly none of these problems should arise in a well-run home where the staff are well-trained, well-motivated, competent and conscientious. If you are considering the options available for a relative or friend, plenty useful guidance is available online, for example

NHS CarersDirect

Age UK

Carers UK


The research does of course also involve visiting the home, spending some time there, talking to staff and managers and getting a feel for what the atmosphere and ethos is, and whether both residents and staff appear to be happy.  No home can guarantee that all staff behave impeccably all the time, but provided there is a culture of treating all residents with care and respect, any member of staff who is not providing proper care will be quickly identified.

If you have relative living in a care home and are concerned about the care they are receiving, of course you should in the first instance raise it with staff and managers at the care home itself.  If you are still concerned after speaking to them, you can raise your concerns with the Care Qualify Commission, or the Local Government Ombudsman.

About Susan Brown

Susan is a director and head of professional negligence at Prolegal Solicitors. She is a regular writer and commentator in the national and legal press on a range of legal issues.

Last modified: June 10, 2021

Written by 3:52 pm Health