Fears Covid pandemic led to more self-neglecting or hoarding in Suffolk

Conservative cabinet member for adult care services, Beccy Hopfensperger.

Conservative cabinet member for adult care services, Beccy Hopfensperger. - Credit: Simon Lee Photography Suffolk UK

Fears have been raised that more people could have been self-neglecting or hoarding during the Covid-19 crisis, and safeguarding experts at Suffolk County Council are expecting an influx in reports as the county emerges from the pandemic.

The authority’s annual safeguarding report has confirmed that the number of risk assessments for that issue fell 19% in the last year, expected because of the nature of the pandemic and the difficulty for professionals to carry out face-to-face visits.

It is now preparing staff to prioritise those visits once restrictions have eased.

Conservative cabinet member for adult care services, Beccy Hopfensperger, said: “We are looking at the impact self-isolation has on people, and looking at different types of abuse, risks of abuse, due to the pandemic and self isolation.

“In particular in ACS [adult care services] we believe there will be an increased risk of abuse through hoarding and self-neglect because people are quite private, isolated, and people who self-neglect don’t tend to open up to people, so we expect there to be an increase in that.

“We are going to be concentrating in that area to ensure we reach out to those people and carry out more face-to-face visits.”

Councillor Hopfensperger recognised that for some people those problems may have become more entrenched, but told Tuesday afternoon’s scrutiny committee “the important thing is to work with that person”.

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Caroline Page, opposition spokeswoman for adult care with the Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group, raised concerns about the “tendency for Suffolk to diagnose everyone requiring care who does not fit into our boxes as people suffering from self-neglect and hoarding rather than lack of support or lack of amenity,” and risked being seen as “victim blaming”.

Elsewhere, there were also concerns raised in the report around organisational or institutional concerns, with a 27% increase from  2019/20 to 2020/21.

Cllr Hopfensperger said the reduced face-to-face visits had been a challenge but contact had not stopped altogether, and pledged to increase activity with restrictions easing.

“Although these numbers are still relatively low, we do know that we need to support some more preventative work in this area to bring more intelligence and enable us to go in there earlier and spot them before they become a real safety concern,” she said.

“This has been really due to the fact that we haven’t been able to go into care homes as much as we would have liked, purely because we have been concentrating on infection control.

“While we have regular contact with our providers we haven’t been able to do some of those face-to-face visits we would like to do, so as we move more out of the restrictions and able to go in and visit those homes we will ramp up our contractual and organisational visits as we have in the past, and we are working really hard with those practices to catch some of those issues earlier.”

The authority is urging everyone to have an awareness of potential safeguarding issues, which can include mental health problems, domestic abuse scenarios, sexual or physical violence risks, gang or financial exploitation, institutional abuse and modern slavery.

People have been urged to look out for the signs of risk, which can include changes in behaviour or appearance, or someone losing their right to make decisions.

People who are concerned about an individual can report it to the council’s Customer First helpline, 0808 800 4005.

Cabinet member for children’s services, James Reeder

Cabinet member for children’s services, James Reeder - Credit: Simon Lee Photography

Cabinet member for children’s services, James Reeder, added: “People are sometimes afraid or don’t know whether they are overreacting, but at the end of the day our teams and our officers will take an appropriate action.

“We would rather that they were reported so we can investigate rather than have those unreported hidden issues.”