Almost half of the safeguarding investigations undertaken by local authorities in the last year resulted in reduced risks for service users, the latest figures have revealed.
Annual safeguarding figures published by NHS Digital show that the risks were reduced in 47% of cases, up from 40% the previous year. But the number of cases where the risk was completely removed fell from 23% in 2014-15 to 20% in 2015-16.
The proportion of enquiries where the risk remained was 8%, the same as the previous year, and a quarter required no further action to be taken by local authority safeguarding teams.
Between April 2015 and March 2016 there were 102,970 individuals subject to enquiries under section 42 of the Care Act 2014, 930 fewer than in 2014-15.
This is lower than the figure reported by councils in the fifth Care Act stocktake from the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, which said 100,000 safeguarding enquiries were made between April and September 2015 alone.
ADASS declined to comment on the difference between the two figures.
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- What the legislation around safeguarding, particularly the Care Act in England and the Social Services and Well-being Act in Wales, means in practice.
- Why two key aims of adult social care – personalisation and safeguarding – can appear to contradict one another, and how the Making Safeguarding Personal approach tries to address this.
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- Working with adults who self-neglect and/or hoard.
‘Common types of risk’
The majority of individuals involved in a safeguarding enquiry were female (60%) and aged 65 and above (63%). The most common types of risk reported were neglect and acts of omission, when health or social care professionals fail to meet the standards required of them, which accounted for 34% of risks. A further 26% of cases involved physical abuse.
The figures also revealed that incidents most frequently took place in the home of the adult at risk (43% of enquiries) or in a care home (36%).
NHS Digital also collected information on the mental capacity of individuals involved in a section 42 enquiry. It found 27% of adults subject to an enquiry lacked the capacity to make decisions about their protection, including their ability to participate in the investigation and their capacity at the time the incident that triggered the enquiry took place.
Gary Fitzgerald, chief executive of charity Action on Elder Abuse said: “We continue to be concerned that the official statistics on adult safeguarding do not reflect the experience of abuse victims, and to that extent are unhelpful.
“Has intervention made a significant difference to a victim’s quality of life and protection? All we know is that at least 55% were either still subject to some level or risk or remained in a risk situation. That cannot be acceptable and we need to better understand why that is.”
He added: “While the data is interesting in a bureaucratic sense, it fails to reflect the experiences of the people on the receiving end of adult safeguarding and it fails to provide any meaningful reassurance that the systems are working effectively. We need better than this if we are to make a sustainable difference to people’s lives.”
What is a ‘safeguarding enquiry’ under the Care Act?
Section 42 of the Care Act states that safeguarding enquiries should be made where a person has needs for care and support; is experiencing, or at risk of, abuse or neglect; and as a result of their care and support needs, is unable to protect himself or herself against the abuse or neglect or the risk of it.
Enquiries aren’t necessarily the same as investigations. The act requires councils to make “whatever enquiries it thinks necessary to enable it to decide whether any action should be taken in the adult’s case”. So an enquiry may not lead to any action and could in principle be quite short.
Prior to the Care Act being introduced in April 2015, there was no threshold in law for when a safeguarding concern should be investigated. Councils were expected to follow the No Secrets guidance, which was designed to protect ‘vulnerable adults’.
A vulnerable adult was defined as a person “who is or may be in need of community care services by reason of mental or other disability, age or illness; and who is or may be unable to take care of him or herself, or unable to protect him or herself against significant harm or exploitation”. So it would be likely that, in many councils, prior to the Care Act this was the threshold for a safeguarding referral.