Health and Social Care of Older People is a Human Rights Issue - RightsInfo

Health and Social Care of Older People is a Human Rights Issue

The independent healthcare regulator, the Care Quality Commission recently warned that disjointed health and social care services in England are placing increasing pressure on A&E departments. As pressure grows on the country’s health and care system, what does this mean for the human rights of older people?

The Care Quality Commission’s State of Care annual report highlights a ‘care injustice’ caused by how the quality of care systems varies across the country.

The impact of ‘disjointed’ and ineffective collaboration within health and social care drives demand for emergency care in hospitals. July 2018 saw the highest number of attendances on record and local hospitals struggling to meet demand  can be “symptomatic of a struggling local health care system”.

Receiving Good Health and Social Care is an ‘Integration Lottery’

The report has found that while some people can easily access good care, others cannot access the services they need or only have access to providers with poor services.

Ian Trenholm, CQC chief executive said “access to this care increasingly depends on where in the country you live and how well your local health system works together. This is not so much a ‘postcode lottery’ as an ‘integration lottery’.

“We’ve seen some examples of providers working together to give people joined-up care based on their individual needs. But until this happens everywhere, individual providers will increasingly struggle to cope with demand – with quality suffering as a result.

This means that there is an unequal access to quality care depending on where in England you live. 

Nearly One in Seven Older People Has Unmet Care Needs

This situation looks set to get even worse with the health and social care likely to come under increasing pressure with rising demand. Currently Age UK estimates that 1.4 million older people do not have access to the care and support they need.

Age UK highlights how in the past two years, the number of older people living with an unmet care need has risen by almost 20 per cent, to nearly one in seven older people. 

These unmet care needs can have far reaching consequences. Due to the lack of adequate care within the community, and the ‘integration lottery’ older people are more likely to be admitted into Accident & Emergency departments.

This is compounded by a lack of social care within communities, which means hospitals are delaying discharging older people. Not only does this mean that older people are having to remain in hospital unnecessarily potentially effecting their chances of recovery, with Age UK estimating it costs the NHS £500 every minute.

Health and Social Care of Older People and Human Rights

Credit: Pixabay Raw Pixel

Older people, just like everyone else in the UK are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998

In the most extreme cases, the lack of adequate health and social care for older people can lead to human rights abuses.

Inadequate care arrangements and overcrowded and overworked wards may lead to people being treated with a lack of respect for dignity and privacy, which may in turn lead to issues which are protected under the Human Rights Acts such as right to respect for private life (Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention) and, in more extreme cases, the prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3 of the Human Rights Convention).

The right to respect for family (Article 8) can also be used to ensure that older people are able to maintain fulfilling and active lives and make their own choices as far as possible when in residential care or hospital.

However, older people can only maintain fulfilling and active lives, and arguably their rights, when there are resources in place for them to do so.

More Must be Done to Meet the Human Rights of Older People Pixabay StockSnap

The ‘United Nations Principles for Older Persons’ are an important and powerful statement of the human rights protection afforded to older people, and are designed to influence national policy.

Principle 11 states, “Older persons should benefit from family and community care and protection in accordance with each society’s system of cultural values”. Principle 18 makes clear that older people should be treated fairly and with dignity regardless of “age, gender, racial or ethnic background, disability or other status, and be valued independently of their economic contribution.” 

According to the Care Quality Commission’s State of Care report, older people in England are not receiving quality and adequate care equally and fairly, instead it is a lottery where the quality of care you receive is dependent on where you live.

With an aging population and increasing pressure on social and health care services, more must be done to ensure that the human rights and dignity of older people are respected.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Rightsinfo

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About the Author

Eilidh Turnbull

Eilidh is currently studying the Diploma in Legal Practice at the University of Glasgow and hopes to practice in the area of human rights and asylum law. She has an LLM in Human Rights and Migration and a great deal of practical experience working in the asylum support sector. She is passionate about making human rights accessible for those who need them most and opening up the human rights conversation past academic circles. In her spare time, she loves to travel and experiment in the kitchen. View all posts by Eilidh Turnbull.
Health and Social Care of Older People is a Human Rights Issue
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