Government ‘dragging heels’ on elder abuse

THE Government has been accused of dragging its heels in implementing measures to protect vulnerable older people from abuse.

Consultant geriatrician and the head of the Government’s Elder Abuse National Implementation Group, Professor Des O’Neill criticised the lack of progress in taking action to detect and prevent elder abuse – particularly financial abuse.

“In general terms, the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive have done very well in this area but there has been a failure by the rest of government, particularly the Department of Finance and the financial sector, to step up to the plate,” he told a conference on elder abuse in Dublin yesterday.

The group has been monitoring the implementation of the governments’s Protecting Our Future report, published in 2002.

Age Action Ireland chief executive, Robin Webster said financial institutions needed to do more to ensure older people are not abused by banks or family members.

Law Reform Commissioner, Patricia Rickard Clarke said mechanisms put in place to protect vulnerable people, such as enduring power of attorney, were being abused.

She criticised the banks for allowing a situation where appointed attorneys were able to access joint accounts set up for the convenience of the older person and withdraw cash for their own benefit.

Minister for Older People, Áine Brady said she intended calling in the financial institutions to discuss it.

The conference, organised by Age Action and the Social Policy and Ageing Research Centre at Trinity College Dublin, also heard that up to 23,000 older people may be suffering abuse in Ireland – a figure based on studies in other countries suggesting that 5% of older people suffer abuse.

The official number of reported cases to the HSE of alleged or suspected elder abuse is about 1,800 a year.

HSE dedicated elder abuse officer, Con Pierce, said that while most cases of alleged abuse occurred in the family environment, relatives only accounted for 15% of cases referred to the health authority last year. And just 16% of cases related to financial elder abuse.

Ms Pierce said many elder abuse victims wanted the abuse to end but the relationship to continue.

Because the older person might be dependent on the abuser for care, gainingaccess was often difficult for the HSE because it did not have the right of access as was the case in suspected child abuse.

One of Britain’s leading experts on elder abuse, Bridget Penhale, from the University of Sheffield, said she believed the 2,700 cases of alleged abuse investigated by the HSE since its dedicated elder abuse service began in 2007 only represented the most serious cases.

“Many people, if they were to come across abuse in a care or residential setting would be unsure of what to do – they do not know what to expect, and do not report it unless it is absolutely clear cut,” she said.

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