Failure to commit to adult protection legislation lambasted

Gary Fitzgerald

Campaigners have criticised the government’s failure to commit to legislation to strengthen protection of adults from abuse in England.

Today, the Department of Health published a report on its consultation on the review of No Secrets, the adult protection guidance introduced in 2000.

More than half of respondents – 68% – supported new safeguarding legislation, and 92% wanted adult safeguarding boards to be placed on a statutory footing, it revealed.

Duty to co-operate wins ‘near unanimous’ support

There was also “near unanimous” support for a wider duty on agencies to co-operate in relation to safeguarding across social care, police and the NHS. The majority also backed giving agencies the power to enter premises where abuse was suspected and introducing a new offence of ill-treating or neglecting a vulnerable adult with capacity.

But despite the evidence showing strong support for legislation, the report failed to indicate what the government intended to do.

However, an earlier draft of the report leaked to Community Care suggests the government could reject wholesale legislative reform. The draft, understood to date from just a fortnight ago, said the government would produce a safeguarding strategy “in the near future” and were considering statutory safeguarding boards and producing a guide to existing legislation.

This statement has been removed from the final report officially published today.

Serious blow to campaigners

The news comes as a serious blow to campaigners who have long called for legislation to put adult protection on a par with the system for children.

Gary Fitzgerald, chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse, said he feared the government had “consigned adult protection to the wilderness” by failing to make a commitment today.

He said that while former care services minister Ivan Lewis had pledged to consider legislation when he announced the No Secrets review in 2007, no progress had been made.

No commitments

“Nowhere do we see consideration of the deaths and serious abuses of the last few years, and nowhere do we see a commitment by the government to actually do anything.  No pledges, no timeframes and no urgency.  This is quite appalling,” he said.

Calls for legislation on adult protection were stepped up in the wake of high-profile adult abuse cases including the Cornwall learning disabilities abuse scandal in 2006 and the deaths of Stephen Hoskin and Margaret Panting.

In 2007, Scotland introduced legislation allowing council officers to visit properties, view medial and financial records and issue banning orders, which remove people at risk of abuse to other premises for up to six months.

Need time to consider Scottish example

But in its response today, the Department of Health concluded that it “needed time” to evaluate how the Scottish legislation was working, pointing out that the orders had hardly been used during the No Secrets review consultation period.

Liberal Democrat MP Paul Burstow, a campaigner on older people’s issues, claimed the government wanted to avoid the funding implications of radically overhauling the adult protection system.

“Instead of making a policy announcement they have kicked the issue into the long grass,” he said.

Burstow said he would attempt to introduce a private member’s bill on adult safeguarding in the autumn.

More information

Full text of report on the No Secrets consultation

Related articles

Learning disabilities: balancing rights for autonomy with safeguarding

No Secrets review: whose business is safeguarding?

No Secrets: Key issues


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