Residents of independent care homes are not being fully protected from abuses despite legislation brought in three years ago to uphold their human rights, campaigners have warned.
The government has failed to disseminate information to independent homes on provisions making them liable under the Human Rights Act 1998 for their treatment of publicly-funded residents, the British Institute of Human Rights warned.
The BIHR led a successful campaign for the reform after the Law Lords ruled in 2007 that independent homes were not bound by the Human Rights Act because they were not providing “functions of a public nature”.
The institute had claimed this loophole left residents unable to challenge abuses such as malnutrition, rough handling or eviction, and the Labour government legislated to close it through the Health and Social Care Act 2008.
However, BIHR director Stephen Bowen said: “Service providers and users tell us that confusion remains, with little information from government about these important legal changes.
“Reports of poor treatment, neglect and, at worst, abuse are still far too commonplace. Our major worry is that the government does not seem concerned about this, even though the drive to contract out more services potentially leaves more vulnerable people at risk.”
The Department of Health said it was the duty of care home managers and local authorities to ensure services complied with the law.
“All care homes must be registered with the Care Quality Commission to ensure they provide good quality, safe care,” said a spokesperson. “The CQC’s enforcement powers have been strengthened to deal with any care homes that fail to comply.”
However, the CQC said it regulated services as a whole and was unable to take up individual cases.
Social care legal expert Ed Mitchell said he knew of only one case of the legislation being enforced, when the Court of Protection ruled that a care home had wrongly banned a woman from visiting an older male resident because his family disapproved of their relationship.
He said it was quite complex to determine whether homes had breached the Human Rights Act and potential damages were low, deterring legal challenges.
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