Age UK said abuse and neglect may have thrived behind closed doors throughout periods of lockdown, contributing to a stark national rise in the number of concerns flagged with councils between April 2020 and March this year.
But NHS Digital figures show the number of concerns about adults with care and support needs in West Sussex fell during the period to 2,155 down from the 8,265 the year before – a 74 per cent drop.
Nationally, nearly 500,000 safeguarding concerns were flagged that year, up five per cent from 2019-20, with the very elderly – those aged over 85 – most likely to be the subject.
Caroline Abrahams, from Age UK, said the abuse of older people was a serious concern, adding: “Hundreds of thousands of older people are being affected a year and we expect the pandemic to have made things worse.
“That’s because of the heightened stress across our society and because abuse and neglect tend to thrive behind closed doors, of which there have been more than usual these last 18 months or so.”
If councils believe a vulnerable adult is experiencing or is at risk of abuse or neglect, they must carry out a Section 42 enquiry to determine whether action should be taken.
Around 1,215 such enquiries were launched in West Sussex during the year to March – fewer than the 3,490 that commenced in 2019-20.
Roughly 1,250 such investigations concluded in 2020-21, with the council finding that the highest proportion of allegations in the area were linked to neglect and acts of omission.
The highest number of incidents took place in a person’s own home with the source of risk in West Sussex most often a service provider.
Across England, where most incidents were likely to happen at home or in residential care, allegations of neglect, physical, psychological or financial abuse were at the centre of most investigations.
In West Sussex, there were 615 enquiries involving neglect or acts of omission, 235 concerning physical abuse, 80 about psychological abuse and 200 investigations into financial abuse.
According to the figures – which are rounded to the nearest five – there were more than 9,000 cases linked to sexual abuse or exploitation investigated nationally.
Kate Terroni, chief inspector for adult social care at the Care Quality Commission, independent regulator of health and social care in England, described the latest figures as concerning but said providers had gone above and beyond to provide high quality care during the pandemic.
She added: “However, where concerns are brought to our attention we will not hesitate to act.
“Where we find people are at risk we will not hesitate to take further regulatory action to ensure people’s safety and human rights are upheld.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said the Government was supporting councils to carry out safeguarding duties effectively and had provided billions in non ring-fenced funding to allow local authorities to continue delivering services throughout the pandemic.