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Is more better?

by Owen Temple on November 13, 2012

Or worse? It’s a hard question when it relates to reports of abuse of vulnerable people.

On the one hand, the fact that suspicion of abuse is being reported may indicate heightened awareness of the issue, improved training, and a greater willingness of people in 2012 to report suspicions. There’s not much doubt that once many of us would have hesitated to do so, motivated amongst other things by fear of sticking our neck out over what some people would accept as “normal”, or simple disbelief that anyone would abuse a vulnerable person.

On the other hand, increasing reports of abuse could reflect increasing numbers of incidents, and since the proportion of substantiated incidents changes little over time what we do know is that we are aware of more abuse than ever we were.

That’s precisely the conundrum that the county cabinet will face tomorrow when they hear that there has been an 88% rise in the number of referrals in County Durham, and that is just a continuation of a trend which has seen the numbers increase every year since 2006/07. In fact the number of referrals has risen since then from 245 to 2197 in 2011/12, a staggering increase of 800% in five years.

It should be recognised that these incidents cover a very wide variation in their nature, for example ranging from concerns about general practice in a care home, to one resident lashing out at another, to serious and criminal acts of abuse. It’s also true that there is a nationwide pattern of increasing referrals, though it’s in no way uniform.

One thing is for certain, I’m grateful to those people who investigate these issues, sometimes at great emotional cost, and to those who report them. A civilised society is rightly judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens, and we certainly have no right to complacency in that respect.

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