Hospitals shamed over “appalling levels of care” for the elderly

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Hospitals shamed over “appalling levels of care” for the elderly

27th May 2011

An expert in human rights has expressed his profound dismay after the NHS was again criticised for giving, what the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, has called: "appalling levels of care," to elderly patients in some hospitals in England.

Mark McGhee, an expert in human rights legislation for Fentons Solicitors LLP, was commenting after inspection reports - compiled by the NHS care regulator, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) - raised serious concerns about the way some hospitals in England were looking after their elderly patients.

"It has only been three months since the Health Service Ombudsman published a truly damning report on the way the NHS was failing to offer even the most basic standards of care for the over 65's," said Mark, an associate with the firm.

"It is incredibly disturbing that these latest CQC reports have again highlighted fundamental failings in the way vulnerable patients are still not being granted the personalised and attentive care and respect that each and every one of us are entitled to," added Mark.

The CQC reports reveal that three out of twelve hospitals in England - where standards of care for elderly patients were assessed in surprise inspections - were failing to meet the basic standard of care for which they are legally obliged to deliver.

Out of the twelve hospitals inspected, six were found to be performing as they should; three were found to have minor concerns, while the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, the Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust and the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust in North London, were all found to be both failing to treat their elderly patients in a dignified manner, and failing even to provide them with enough to eat and drink.

The inspections - which focused on standards of nutrition as well as dignity and respect - found that some elderly patients, who were incapable of feeding themselves, were going without food simply because they were not being offered the help they needed with their meals. Many vulnerable patients were also found to be malnourished as their nutritional needs were not being monitored and regular checks of their weight were not being carried out.

Shockingly, several complaints came from patients who reported rarely being asked if they had enough to drink. Numerous accounts were heard of vulnerable patients going without water as fluids were either placed out of reach or simply not offered for unacceptably long periods of time, with some patients going without water for more than ten hours. Perhaps the most extreme case detailed how one clinician at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust felt compelled to prescribe water on patient's medical charts just to ensure patients were given enough to drink.

"While these reports also thankfully document examples of exemplary patient care of the type that is absolutely expected, there are sadly far too many cases where patients were denied even the most basic levels of care," said Mark. "These are the minimum standards of care we can offer. The fact that some hospitals are getting it wrong on this level is not only shocking, it is wholly unacceptable."

In addition, the reports revealed a wealth of anecdotal evidence detailing how patients were routinely spoken to in a condescending or dismissive way, including accounts of food being spooned into patient's mouths without any attempt to engage them in conversation. Furthermore, many patients received treatment where no consent had been sought or given and little or no explanation of the care they were receiving was issued.

"These reports paint a truly bleak portrayal of 21st century NHS patient care in this country," said Mark. "The NHS Constitution pledges to "respond with humanity and kindness to each person's pain, distress, anxiety or need." It is every patient's basic right to be treated as an individual, with respect and compassion, not as a burden or a nuisance, and certainly not as someone to be ignored or seen as an inconvenient chore to be attended to. The appalling and degrading manner in which some elderly patients are being treated cannot be allowed to continue. This kind of woeful sub-standard care where patients are neglected, spoken to without respect, treated without dignity, and denied even the help they need to eat or drink, are failings that simply cannot be tolerated.

"It is understood that with ongoing job losses across the NHS and the accompanying pressure that is put on the system as a result, frontline care is going to be affected," said Mark. "But to be failing on such a basic level is extremely worrying. Notwithstanding patient nutritional needs, there is simply no excuse for failing to meet patient's physical, social and emotional needs and treating them with the respect and dignity they deserve.

"It is of some relief to hear that where these inspections have uncovered such appalling levels of care, the CQC will be able to use its enforcement powers to ensure that real improvements are made," added Mark. "All six hospitals, where serious concerns have been raised, must now act urgently to raise their game and deliver improvements to their service, with the worst three offenders to face regulator action if they fail to do so."

Read more - BBC