There were 1,600 reported concerns of abuse and neglect in Teesside care homes in 2019/20, a report has revealed.
The startling statistic was contained in the Teeswide Safeguarding Adults Board annual report which said it was actually a 14% decrease on the previous 12 months.
The board is a statutory body which co-ordinates and ensures the effectiveness of work to safeguard adults living inTeesside.
In all there were approximately 5,000 reported concerns across a range of care settings including care homes, domestic, community care and hospitals, its report said, a year-on-year increase.
This equated to 97 each week across Teesside, although an individual could be subject to multiple concerns being raised on their behalf.
More than half (56%) of the concerns led to so-called section 42 enquiries by local authorities under the 2014 Care Act since it was believed an adult was experiencing, or was at risk of, abuse and/or neglect.
These enquiries rose 37% year-on-year, although the board said this was a result of improved reporting mechanisms and it was anticipated there would be a levelling off in 2020/21.
There was also a 56% increase in section 42 investigations relating to domestic abuse.
Adult abuse was categorised into a number of areas, ranging from neglect, physical, financial and material, domestic, psychological, sexual and modern slavery.
The board has six statutory partners – Cleveland Police, Hartlepool Council, Middlesbrough Council, Redcar and Cleveland Council, Stockton Council and the Tees Valley Clinical Commissioning Group – along with a number of non-statutory partners.
It holds organisations to account for their safeguarding activity and has established a Tees framework to strengthen local arrangements, also sharing learning across agencies and promoting more consistent approaches.
‘Double edged sword’
Darren Best, the independent chairman of the board, who was appointed in October last year, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service the figures were a “double edged sword”.
He said: “People may be concerned about some of the figures going up and may view it as there being more adult abuse because there are more investigations going on in the area.
“But the enquiries sit within a multi-agency system and the other way of thinking about it is that the potential abuse and the starting point for an investigation is being better recognised by professionals.
“As the chair of the organisation I would be as reassured as I would be concerned, but the information is there to beg a question and ask ‘What does this mean?’
“We can’t simply say from the data that there is anything to conclude good or bad, but there are some question marks and that is my role to dig into the data with our partner agencies to better understand it.”
On care homes, Mr Best said: “Within our area all four local authorities have very strong and close links with care homes and their management.
“As sad and tragic as they are the high profile cases [of abuse] we have had in other areas mean that people re-double their efforts around making sure people are safe and the right policies and procedures are in place to protect people.
“At the end of the day though we need people to be vigilant.”
The report said there would be continuing monitoring to determine the impact of the coronavirus with a “proportionate and pragmatic” approach being taken to safeguarding adults’ work during the pandemic.
Mr Best, who was previously deputy chief constable of Northumbria Police and head of crime at Cleveland Police during a 30-year career in the police service, said: “The full impact of covid is still difficult to say.
“I have a meeting in a few weeks time to discuss the impact of the third lockdown and what our responses to that have been.
“Some of the things that are concerning us is that professionals have not been able to get ready access to people and their homes to get that first hand view of what is happening in their lives.
“Investigations have also been happening more remotely than they would in more normal times and the impact of that is still unknown.
“What we can say is that people have found innovative ways of working to be able to still provide a safeguarding service and keep people safe – my concern is whether that is optimal in the longer-term and I don’t think it is.
“The main worry perhaps is whether when things do start to open up again we will we discover things that have been hidden, right now we don’t know.
“However I have been hugely impressed by the way people have adapted and how quickly they have done so to make sure they can do all they reasonably can to keep people safe.”
‘Eyes and ears’
Mr Best said that support from the public continued to be crucial in tackling abuse.
He said: “We need to keep people reporting things.
“I would much rather have high numbers and be answering questions around those, than having low numbers and somehow feeling falsely safe.
“My plea would be to the public to report any concerns they may have about somebody – I would much rather that and find a simple answer to the question than have people thinking they are somehow being nosy or their reporting would not be welcome.
“It is really important that people are telling us things, currently they are our eyes and ears.”
Three main priorities have been included in the board’s strategic business plan moving forward, which are to continue to improve general awareness of safeguarding and how people can protect themselves; help efforts to reduce loneliness and isolation and strengthen links with children’s partnerships and community safety partnerships at a strategic and local level.
Meanwhile, the annual report described how the ‘safe place’ scheme operated in Teesside since 2015 had been expanded significantly.
It is a network of venues in community locations which provide a place of safety to vulnerable adults and their carers, or people who feel threatened and anxious while in the community.
An audit had taken place to ensure the continued suitability of the locations in the scheme, as well as identifying any additional training required for staff within the venues.
There are now 33 safe places in Hartlepool, 16 in Middlesbrough, 47 in Redcar and Cleveland and 39 in Stockton.
For more information about the scheme visit www.tsab.org.uk/campaigns-and-initiatives/find-support-in-your-area/safe-place-scheme/
-- to www.gazettelive.co.uk