Speech by Ms. Kathleen Lynch TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People – Open Your Eyes – Conference on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Good morning. I am delighted to be here to open this conference to mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and to launch “Open Your Eyes”, the HSE Elder Abuse Services report for 2010. I would like to thank Mr Frank Murphy, HSE Integrated Services Area Manager, for his invitation to be here today. I would also like to thank the HSE and the National Centre for the Protection of Older People (NCPOP) in collaboration with the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) for co-hosting the event today. I am sure you are looking forward to hearing from the experts speaking this morning.

As you know elder abuse is a complex issue. It may involve financial abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse or it may arise due to inadequacy of care. Current policy on elder abuse originates in the 2002 Report of the Working Group on Elder Abuse, Protecting our Future, and the review of that Report in 2009. I am very pleased that substantial progress has been made and continues to be made in formulating and implementing a policy on elder abuse at all levels of governance within the health, social and protection services in Ireland. In addition, the independent regulation and inspection of nursing homes by HIQA is an important safeguard in driving quality, safety and accountability in residential services for older people.

Elder abuse in any form is totally unacceptable. I can reiterate my full commitment to tackling all forms of abuse. I think it is important to also say that elder abuse is not just a health issue. It is also a societal issue. It therefore requires us, as a civic society, to recognise elder abuse in all its forms and to report it if we come across it. “Open Your Eyes” the HSE’s Elder Abuse Services Report 2010 shows that year on year, the HSE, in partnership with NCPOP, other statutory agencies, the public, private and voluntary sectors, continues to make significant improvements in developing the structures needed to tackle this abuse. The indications are that these structures are working. However it is imperative that this progress continues and that any gaps are identified and addressed in full.

Statistics on elder abuse do not make for easy reading. The NCPOP’s 2010 study on “Abuse and Neglect of Older People in Ireland” found that 2.2% of the study sample experienced abuse or neglect in the last 12 months. This means that approximately 10,000 people living in the community were found to have suffered abuse, neglect or maltreatment. We know that this is a conservative estimate as the incidence of abuse rose to 4% when the definition was broadened to include any episode of abuse perpetrated since the client turned 65 years of age. This would indicate that since the age of 65 years, more than 18,000 older people have had experiences that were potentially abusive. These findings are not unlike those in other developed countries where studies have shown that around 3 to 5 per cent of older people living in the community may suffer abuse at any one time.

In the main, the trends identified in the NCPOP study are generally consistent with an analysis of the referrals of allegations of elder abuse to the HSE.

It is worth mentioning that the number of allegations reported to the HSE continues to rise each year. Paradoxically, the increase from 1,870 cases in 2009 to 2,110 in 2010, is a good thing. While abuse in any form is abhorrent, I welcome the statistical increase as a measure of the increased awareness of the services provided by the HSE and an increased engagement with those services. We know that under-reporting of elder abuse is a global issue, of concern to us all. I encourage anybody who feels that they are a victim of elder abuse to report it and avail of the services provided by the HSE. Central to the elder abuse service, is the identification of issues for the client, and the tailoring of interventions and supports to meet their needs. The comprehensive range of supports on offer to clients includes monitoring, home supports, conflict mediation and counselling.

In commissioning the Review of Protecting Our Future, my Department was particularly anxious that any gaps in policy be identified, and that research on areas not covered in the original report be carried out. These areas included financial abuse, institutional abuse and self-neglect.

I was pleased that the Review Report found that progress was most evident and pronounced in the health sector. It did, however, acknowledge that significant issues, such as financial abuse, were not being addressed in a sufficiently coherent and comprehensive way. The Review made recommendations in three main areas:-

  1. strengthening existing institutional arrangements,
  2. accelerating progress on existing recommendations in Protecting our Future, and
  3. addressing emerging areas of concern.

The HSE, in conjunction with my Department, continues to implement the recommendations in the Review Report and focus development on a number of key areas.

The National Centre on the Protection of Older People provides access to reliable and valuable evidence on elder abuse, which is a key ingredient in good planning and policy development. This allows us to be more proactive in developing policy, which in turn means that service delivery can be considered rather than crisis driven. Creating a knowledge base of Irish and international research on the occurrence, prevalence, detection and response to abuse of older people allows us to place elder abuse in the wider social context. For example, financial abuse, ageism and discrimination are key issues which cannot be resolved solely within the HSE.

The opportunity to inform policy across a range of departments and agencies is strengthened by a Centre that has an inter-agency mandate. Contributing to the work of the HSE’s Elder Abuse Media and Public Awareness Campaign Working Group is an example of the Centre’s work on joined-up formulation of policy in this area.

Under-reporting of elder abuse is a global issue which highlights the importance of continued public awareness campaigns. As I have said before, elder abuse in any form is simply unacceptable. It is necessary to send out that message over and over again so that people can recognise elder abuse if they come across it and are encouraged to report any concerns they may have. I would like to commend Mr Paschal Moynihan, HSE Specialist for Older Peoples Services and the Elder Abuse Media and Public Awareness Campaign Working Group for their continued work in raising awareness of this issue. Exploring a range of options for getting its message across to all age groups, the Working Group takes advantage of latest methods of communication as well as traditional media. Training DVDs, leaflets, legacy cards and short film competitions go a long way in addressing the gap in information that exists in community and residential settings.

I know that very many people are engaged in activities that bring them into contact with older people on a daily basis. People providing home help, meals-on-wheels services, home visitation groups, active retirement associations, and community groups etc., are in a unique position to identify signs of elder abuse. I would like to commend the voluntary sector for the role it plays in providing individuals with the skills and knowledge to enable them to recognise, and respond appropriately to elder abuse.

The main goal of any response to elder abuse is prevention. Educating people to recognise the fine line between bad behaviour and elder abuse and empowering older people by providing information on minimising the risks associated with elder abuse are powerful prevention tools which aim to stop elder abuse from happening in the first place. We have to be ever mindful to eliminate ageism and ageist attitudes. It is simply not acceptable that negative attitudes and perceptions of ageing and older people can lead to intolerance and acceptance of abuse. Working on prevention strategies can empower older people and demonstrate that society values their participation and contribution.

In conclusion, I would like to repeat the Government’s commitment to improving protection services for vulnerable members of society. We have made great strides recently in developing appropriate services and raising awareness of elder abuse. However, we cannot become complacent – we must continue to raise awareness, carry out further research and develop appropriate mechanisms to work in collaboration with each other. I thank the HSE for the publication of the report. It reflects the dedication and hard work of all of those working within the elder abuse service. But, more importantly, it should assure everybody that the HSE elder abuse service is working. I reiterate again that elder abuse in any form is completely unacceptable. I encourage anybody who encounters or is aware of elder abuse to immediately bring it to the attention of the HSE Elder Abuse service.

I would also like to wish you all every success for the conference today and trust that your deliberations will continue to inform public policy and generate appropriate attention for this very important issue.

Thank you.