May 2, 2006
By Louise Gray Scottish political Correspondent
Research found residents were being given drugs without their permission.Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Fears over secret drugs for OAPs
* One in seven nursing homes giving medication without consent
* Research conducted by care homes watchdog Care Commission
* 14 out of the 101 care homes surveyed administered drugs covertly
Key quote ""If I end up in a care home - which one in five of us do - I want to be able to eat my food and drink without worrying about what it might contain," - Mr Watson
Story in full ONE in seven Scottish care homes secretly administers drugs to residents without their consent, according to figures from the care homes watchdog.
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Campaigners said the research by the Care Commission meant hundreds of elderly residents were being given drugs without their permission.
It is feared care homes could be administering drugs to make life easier for staff, and charities have demanded that the regulations be tightened.
Dr David Lyons, the Scottish Executive's mental health tsar, is poised to launch a formal consultation on the issue.
But doctors' leaders last night defended the activities of care homes, saying it was ethical to use drugs where patients were incapable of making the decision for themselves, and that care home staff would give drugs without consent only where it was absolutely necessary.
The Care Commission research, carried out earlier this year and released to campaigner Hunter Watson, revealed that of 101 care homes surveyed across Scotland, 14 admitted administering drugs "covertly".
With 1,500 care homes across Scotland housing 38,500 people, it suggests more than 200 could be giving drugs to their residents without consent.
A spokesman for the Care Commission said the figures, compiled from pre-inspection reports, gave only a "snapshot". Details would soon be put on computer, allowing a more complete view of the practice.
"Every care provider has a legal responsibility to keep full records of cases where medication is administered without the consent of the service user," he said. "We monitor that as part of our regulatory activities.
"There is no statutory responsibility for the Care Commission to analyse the data on this issue. In fact, the records are currently kept in paper format, meaning we can only provide a basic snapshot of this process as provided to Mr Watson.
"However, as of April 2006, we introduced a new system which means care providers will submit this information, allowing greater understanding of the scale of this process."
Mr Watson, 70, from Aberdeen, requested the figures after his 90-year-old mother was twice given drugs without her consent at a care home in the North-east. He said the data meant hundreds of people in Scotland were being given drugs covertly in their food and drink.
"Medication is used to make management of residents with dementia easier," he said. "They are sedated and spend a long time sleeping."
Mr Watson will appear before the public petitions committee tomorrow to hear the latest progress on his petition to have regulations surrounding the issuing of drugs changed. He will argue it is against the European Convention on Human Rights to give drugs without consent.
"If I end up in a care home - which one in five of us do - I want to be able to eat my food and drink without worrying about what it might contain," he said.
In 2003, a study by the Liberal Democrats found 22,000 elderly people in the UK were being given powerful anti-psychotics, known as "chemical coshes", when there were no medical grounds for doing so.
Many charities expressed their concern last night.
Lindsay Scott, from Help the Aged Scotland, said there was nothing wrong in giving drugs covertly if it was sanctioned by a medical professional, but there were concerns that the regulations should be tightened. "It is a situation that could, under certain circumstances, be abused and we would hate to see that happening," he said.
The Scottish Association for Mental Health and Enable Scotland have also voiced concern about possible abuse and called for tighter regulations.
Kate Fearnley, the policy director of Alzheimer Scotland, said her charity would be contributing to the consultation because it wanted to see it more carefully managed. "We agree with the fact that great care should be taken if people are to be given drugs covertly," she said. "There are situations where that has to happen, but it has to be carefully done."
Dr Lyons, the director of the Mental Welfare Commission, said he was going to launch a consultation on the issue, which he has described as "difficult and important".
But the Scottish Executive has insisted that various parts of the National Care Standards were in place to prevent covert medication being given for the wrong reasons.
Mairi Scott, who chairs the Royal College of GPs in Scotland, said there are only two circumstances in which drugs should be put in food and drink - where the patient had difficultly in swallowing or if the patient was mentally unable to understand what was happening, in which case relatives and doctors were able to take the decision.
"My experience of care homes is that people who work in them and look after them are exceptionally caring and work very hard to do their best for patients," she said.
'She knew what was going on and was not pleased'
HELEN Watson may have been suffering dementia when she went into a care home, but she knew when drugs were concealed in her pudding without her consent and she was not happy about it.
The active pensioner first went into a care home a few days before her 90th birthday and although she needed help she insisted staff stuck to a lifelong vow against chemical medication.
This was something her son, Hunter Watson, was bound to respect, but not it seems the care home in the North-east.
On two occasions, Mr Watson found his mother drowsy and claiming she had been given sedatives in her food and drink. Staff admitted drugs had been administered.
"She knew what was going on and was not pleased," he added, saying he eventually managed to ensure no more unwanted drugs were given.
Mrs Watson has now passed away, but her son is fighting to ensure others are not given drugs against their will.
* Care for the Elderly
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Last updated: 02-May-06 01:34 BST