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What to Do if You Witness Care Home Abuse

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Care home abuse is something that no one should have to go through or witness. Unfortunately, some nursing home residents fall victim to the damaging acts of abuse and neglect and it commonly goes unreported due to fear or due to the fact that the victim is unable to communicate.

If you witness any form of care home abuse, you have the right to report the incident to authorities.

In this guide, we’ll talk you through the different types of care and nursing home abuse, how you can report an incident and some resources that may help you if you ever witness elder abuse in a care home.

What is Abuse?

According to Hourglass, a charity that takes action on elder abuse, abuse is any action that violates an individual’s human or civil rights. They also define elder abuse as a single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.

Types of Care Home Abuse

If you think you have witnessed any form of abuse in a care home, you may feel confused about if what you have been exposed to qualifies as care home abuse. Below, we have listed some examples of different types of care home abuse and how the resident may show signs of abuse.

However, it’s important to note that abuse isn’t singular. It’s possible for care and nursing home residents to experience different forms of abuse, for example, what comes with financial abuse, such as making changes to a will, can be accompanied by psychological abuse, such as limiting access to medication.

Physical Abuse

This kind of abuse includes hitting, slapping, pushing, misuse of medication, restraint and inappropriate physical sanctions.

Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Unexplained injuries
  • Bruising
  • Unusually shaped burns
  • Malnutrition
  • Bed ulcers

Psychological Abuse

A care worker giving psychological abuse to a resident

This type of abuse includes emotional abuse, yelling, humiliating, blaming, intimidation, controlling, isolation and harassment. It also includes the unjustified withdrawal of services or support networks as well as limiting access to medication or essential assistive equipment.

Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Inability to sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Fearfulness
  • Loss of appetite

Financial Abuse

This type of abuse involves the resident having money or personal property stolen from them. It also includes the resident being defrauded, put under pressure regarding money or personal property or having their money misused.

When it comes to financial abuse, signs might not be as obvious. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Lack of clothing, food or heating
  • Unexplained money shortages
  • Unexplained bank account withdrawals
  • Unexplained loss of or misplaced financial documents
  • Addition of authorised signers on a signature card
  • Unexplained changes to a will
  • Unexpectedly unable to pay for care

Discriminatory Abuse

This is a type of abuse that includes harassment or any other form of abuse due to the resident’s race, gender and gender identity, age, disability, sexual orientation or religion. These characteristics are protected under the Equality Act 2010.

Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Withdrawal
  • Uncharacteristic expressions of anger

Sexual Abuse

This type of abuse includes inappropriate touching, indecent exposure, rape and sexual acts conducted without consent from the individual.

Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Unexplained changes in behaviour
  • Intimate injuries
  • Fearfulness
  • Torn or soiled clothing

How to Report Abuse Step By Step

Reporting nursing home abuse should be done immediately after witnessing. Here are the steps you can follow if you are a witness of abuse in a care home:

Speak With the Victim

If it’s possible and safe to do so, speaking with the resident could allow you to gain some more information on the situation. It’s best to always approach the situation sensitively as the resident might be shaken up.

A person speaking to a care home abuse victim

If the resident has the mental capacity to make their own decisions but doesn’t want the abuse to be reported, you may have a difficult decision on your hands. Whether the resident is a loved one or not, everyone is entitled to the protection of the law as well as dignity and respect. Reporting abuse helps prevent any further cases of abuse and helps protect others.

Speak With the Local Authorities

You can speak with local authorities to raise concerns about witnessing elder abuse. After you have reported the incident, they have a duty to respond. They may either initiate a safeguarding enquiry, refer the case to social services or give the correct advice to help solve the issue.

If the reported case is an emergency, local authorities may either notify the police or speak with another body such as the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Speak With the Police

Certain types of abuse that include assault, theft and fraud are criminal offences that should be reported to either the police, health and social care trust and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA).

Make a Formal Complaint

If you are unhappy with the way your loved one is being treated in their care home, it’s possible to make a complaint. If you’d like to read a bit more on this topic, read our guide on how to complain about a care home.


According to Age UK, if you witness a nursing home resident being subject to any type of abuse, you should report it to their local social services department. Every local council should have an emergency number you are free to call if you need to report an incident out of office hours.

Under the Human Rights Act 1998 which relates to abuse of privacy and personal care, local authorities have a duty to act on a report of nursing home abuse. The 2010 Equality Act also protects the resident from discrimination of any kind. If a care home resident is experiencing any form of abuse or neglect and is unable to protect themselves, the local authority have a duty to carry out a safeguarding enquiry.

Helpful Websites & Resources

If you are worried about reporting care home abuse, there are many different helpful websites and resources out there that can help you along the process. Hourglass, Action on Elder Abuse (AEA) and Care Campaign for the Vulnerable are all great organisations that are helping the fight against care home abuse and neglect.

If you ever witness abuse at a care home - we hope you don’t - it is vital that you take the right steps to make sure the abuse is stopped. We understand that taking those next steps can be uncomfortable, but doing so could improve the care home experience for many other residents.

This guide should give you all you need to know if you witness care home abuse. If you feel distressed or impacted by what you have witnessed or at the thought of reporting the incident, remember that loved ones are always there to support you through it.

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