NHS shamed over callous treatment of elderly
The National Health Service is condemned over its inhumane treatment of elderly patients in an official report that finds hospitals are failing to meet “even the most basic standards of care” for the over-65s.
A study of pensioners who suffered appalling treatment at the hands of doctors and nurses says that half were not given enough to eat or drink.
One family member said the maltreatment amounted to “euthanasia”.
Some were left unwashed or in soiled clothes, while others were forgotten after being sent home or given the wrong medication.
In several cases considered by the Health Service Ombudsman, patients died without loved ones by their sides because of the “casual indifference” of staff and their “bewildering disregard” for people’s needs.
The damning report warns that extra money will not help the NHS meet required standards of care and that more problems are likely as the population ages.
Ann Abraham, who as health ombudsman carries out independent investigation of complaints against the health service, said: “The findings of my investigations reveal an attitude – both personal and institutional – which fails to recognise the humanity and individuality of the people concerned and to respond to them with sensitivity, compassion and professionalism.
“The reasonable expectation that an older person or their family may have of dignified, pain-free end of life care in clean surroundings in hospital is not being fulfilled. Instead, these accounts present a picture of NHS provision that is failing to meet even the most basic standards of care.
“These often harrowing accounts should cause every member of NHS staff who reads this report to pause and ask themselves if any of their patients could suffer in the same way.
“I know from my caseload that in many cases, the answer must be ‘yes’.”
Michelle Mitchell, charity director at Age UK, said: “The inhumane treatment of older people described in this report is sickening and should send shock waves through the NHS and Government.
“It’s difficult to imagine us allowing any other group of people to suffer this indignity and neglect, yet we know this is just the tip of the iceberg. Appalling treatment of older people in the health service is far too common.”
Under Labour, health spending in England tripled to reach more than £100 billion a year. A new “NHS Constitution” set out the service’s commitment to human rights, high-quality care and respect for patients and their families.
Yet the Ombudsman said her office’s investigations into the cases of 10 people over 65, which took place between 2009 and last year, showed the “stark contrast” between the NHS’s stated principles and the treatment patients received.
The patients had all been loving, active people of a generation that “didn’t like to make a fuss”. They had simply wanted to be cared for properly and die peacefully – but they all suffered “unnecessary pain, indignity and distress while in the care of the NHS”. As a result, “they were transformed from alert and able individuals to people who were dehydrated, malnourished or unable to communicate”.
Half of them did not consume adequate food or water, some were not washed, others were discharged in a “shambolic” fashion, while in many cases their suffering was ignored.
Nine of the 10 died while in NHS care or soon afterwards, and the Ombudsman upheld the complaints made about the care received by all 10.
The report says it is “incomprehensible” that the NHS needs to be told that its patients should be provided with clean and comfortable surroundings, assistance with eating, drinking water and the ability to call for help. “Yet the most basic of human needs are too often neglected.”
The Ombudsman warned that the cases detailed in the report were not exceptional, with almost one in five of the 9,000 complaints it received last year concerning the care of older people.
The report notes that by 2034, 23 per cent of the population will be over 65, with rising levels of dementia placing additional burdens on care. But “extra resource alone will not help” as some staff are guilty of an “ignominious failure to look beyond a patient’s clinical condition”, and an “apparent indifference” to “appalling standards of care”.
The Ombudsman said that “real and urgent change” was needed, including listening to older people and their families, as well as learning from mistakes.
Paul Burstow, the care services minister, said: “This report exposes the urgent need to update our NHS. We need a culture where poor practice is challenged and quality is the watchword. The dignity of frail older people should never be sidelined.”
Katherine Murphy, of the Patients Association, said: “Attitudes need to change. Older patients need to be treated with respect and compassion, not as an inconvenience. It is a sick joke that we have an NHS constitution that tells us what rights we have when being treated by the NHS – but it is clear that to the majority of older patients it is not worth the paper it is written on.”
Tags: Doctors, Health Professionals, Labour shambles, National Health Service, NHS, NHS Deaths, Patients' Association, preventable crisis