National register for care workers needed to protect adults from abuse, warns top official

Police and safeguarding officials failed to investigated allegations of abuse by family of Clive Treacey (pictured)  (Elaine Treacy)
Police and safeguarding officials failed to investigated allegations of abuse by family of Clive Treacey (pictured) (Elaine Treacy)

A national register is needed for all care workers to protect vulnerable adults from abuse, a leading safeguarding official has said.

The warning from Professor Michael Preston-Shoot, co-chair of the National Network of Safeguarding Adults Boards (SAB), comes as investigations by councils into alleged abuse or harm of vulnerable adults have tripled following the pandemic.

Figures due to be released later this year show that, from 2017-2019, there were 231 safeguarding adult reviews completed, compared to 675 from 2019 to 2023, according to Prof Preston-Shoot.

On Wednesday The Independent revealed shocking figures showing almost 10,000 reports of sexual abuse and harassment in care homes from 2020 to 2023, according to the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The figures came as an independent review, uncovered by this publication, revealed the failure by police and local authorities to investigate the alleged sexual abuse of Clive Treacy, a man with learning disabilities, by a care worker in the 1990s.

The author of the review, Prof Preston-Shoot, recommended the government create national guidance to protect vulnerable adults from care staff who are currently free to move around care homes unchallenged.

Professor Michael Preston-Shoot said it’s essential that there is a joined-up national register (University of Bedfordshire)
Professor Michael Preston-Shoot said it’s essential that there is a joined-up national register (University of Bedfordshire)

In an interview, Prof Preston-Shoot has now also called for a national professional register for all care staff.

Currently, there is no mandatory professional regulation of care workers and healthcare assistants.

This means if no criminal history is reported through Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) reports, care home employers may not be aware if a staff member has previously faced allegations of abuse.

Speaking to The Independent, Prof Preston-Shoot said: “I think anybody working in the care sector should be registered with a professional register, whether that’s the health and social care council or some other regulatory body.

“The advantage of a national system of ensuring that a person’s details are contained within a register of people who are working with either children or adults at risk is that anybody thinking of employing an individual can check the register.”

Other leading experts, such as former Victims Commissioner Dame Vera Baird, have also previously made calls for care workers to be regulated, after The Independent and Sky News revealed shocking reports of sexual abuse by care assistants within mental health care.

Last year, The Independent uncovered the story of a care worker in Essex who was jailed last autumn over the rape and sexual abuse of several elderly residents across two care homes in 2020 and 2021. The offender was able to leave the country and return to the second home after committing his crimes at the first.

Essex Police has referred three of its officers to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

Expanding on his recommendation to the government to create new national guidance for local authorities, Professor Preston-Shoot said: “There is a formal system for investigating concerns in relation to the safeguarding of children where there are allegations that someone in a position of trust has abused that position.

“However, because we lack a national system [for adults], it is possible for a person against whom an allegation has been made to move across local authority boundaries to essentially escape investigation.

“What we are advocating for is that there should be a national system as we have for children’s safeguarding, in order to ensure that there is a comprehensive approach to investigating allegations that people in a position of trust have abused or neglected an adult at risk.”

Referencing recent reports of abuse of adults he said:

“I qualified as a social worker back in 1978. I’ve been a social worker academic for most of my life.

“Awareness, our understanding, our response to adults at risk has been much slower to develop [compared to children]. I remember, either in the late 1980s or early 1990s, a government minister effectively denied adult abuse can happen. I don’t think anyone would do that now but we are playing catch-up. In relation to adults at risk, we are way behind the curve.”

The Local Government Association did not respond to questions over whether it would support a national professional regulator for care workers.

A government spokesperson said: “Councils take their safeguarding responsibilities extremely seriously; one case of abuse is one too many and it is everyone’s responsibility to root out and prevent it.

“’Ensuring safety within the system’ is one of the four main themes of CQC assurance and we hope CQC’s assessment process will help identify very best practice, as well as capture some of the issues and challenges councils face. It’s essential safe spaces are created where people can raise any concerns and feel reassured that they will be properly listened to.”