'Up to 10,000 older abuse victims'
Up to 10,000 older people in Northern Ireland may have been abuse victims, it was revealed.
The country is the only part of the UK which does not have specific laws protecting vulnerable adults or is not drafting them, according to Older People's Commissioner Claire Keatinge.
"It is essential that older people are better protected from abuse and that law and policy supports this," she said.
A fragmented range of laws and policies help prevent abuse of the elderly but there is nothing specifically designed to protect vulnerable adults, Ms Keatinge added.
Ms Keatinge said a study showed that across Northern Ireland some 10,000 older people may be victims.
"There is widespread concern and anger about the abuse of older people. However, there is often a lack of understanding about the legal protection available to older people," she added.
She hosted a discussion to review existing legislation and hear the views of experts from across a variety of organisations.
According to the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI), the rate of elderly abuse in Northern Ireland is around 2%, slightly lower than that in the Republic and Great Britain.
Abuse was defined as the physical, psychological, emotional, financial or sexual maltreatment or neglect of a vulnerable adult by another person.
Much of the response in Northern Ireland was through a vulnerable adult protection service within the health and social care s ervices, a report drawn up for CARDI by academics and a representative of a Northern Ireland health trust said.
In 2006 a policy and procedural guidance document was produced which outlines procedures for staff if they suspect abuse or if a case of abuse has been disclosed to them.
The CARDI report said health and social care trusts in Northern Ireland typically have s afeguarding vulnerable adults forums that include senior managers from appropriate programmes of care.
These monitor the implementation of the procedures and policies of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups (NI) Order.
The report said: "Cases of alleged or suspected abuse are investigated in accordance with strict procedures by a social worker working in an appropriate team, such as elder care, mental health or disability.
"A designated officer (a senior manager) will then consider the report of the investigating social worker and other relevant reports in deciding on an appropriate health and social care response."