‘Torture committee’ to visit Norway
May 6, 2011
The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) will visit Norway this year, with operators of nursing homes in the country warned that the body could visit them unannounced.
The CPT last undertook a routine visit to Norway in 2005, when they criticized authorities for holding prisoners too long in custody. Sources from the committee have apparently confirmed that the treatment of elderly dementia patients would be of interest to the committee.
The Council of Europe set up the CPT as part of the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which was ratified in 1989. The committee, which is made up of medical, legal and justice system experts, stresses on its own website that “it not only covers ‘torture’, but also a whole range of situations which could amount to ‘inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’.”
‘Social care homes’ an interest
A letter from the CPT to the Norwegian justice ministry lists a number of institutions where people can be deprived of their freedom, which includes “social care homes” for the first time. An anonymous source from the committee’s secretariat in Strasbourg told newspaper Aftenposten that “all institutions where people are denied their freedom are of interest to the committee.” They said that “this can, for example, be about homes where elderly people are locked inside certain parts of a house or institution.” They also added that nothing in particular that had happened in Norway had raised their interest in these kinds of institutions, and that the committee had a general desire to widen its horizons in terms of which institutions it should investigate.
The CPT’s visiting date has yet been given to the Norwegian authorities. The committee will give a list of institutions they wish to visit, so it is not yet certain that they will visit any nursing homes despite “social care homes” being listed as places of interest. Norwegian officials will not be present during any of the visits, while committee members will have to right to speak to anyone they choose about a particular institution. Their report will be completed a year after the visit.
One recent report into Norwegian care homes, based on unannounced visits from the state health regulator, suggested that some homes had kept patients’ doors locked illegally. The report stated that “the solutions and arrangements found were most often of a collective nature and applied to all residents, without consideration of whether the individual’s need for health assistance, including nursing and care, indicated that the locking of doors was necessary.” It concluded that “such practices are not in line with legislation.” Under Norwegian law, only patients that are evaluated to be incapable of understanding their condition or refusing care can be locked in to prevent injuries.
Nursing homes in Norway have already come under increasing scrutiny in recent times when it comes to conditions for its workers. The so-called ‘Adecco scandal,’ which started with facilities run by human resources firm Adecco and then spread to a number of other areas, revealed that a series of privately-run state nursing homes were breaching employment law in terms of overly long shifts, missing pension payments and other issues.