NHS shamed over appalling treatment of elderly

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NHS shamed over appalling treatment of elderly

17th February 2011

An expert in human rights has called the findings of a report into the treatment of ten elderly patients by the NHS both shocking and incredibly sad.

Commenting on the Health Service Ombudsman study published this week, Mark McGhee, an expert in Human rights legislation for Fentons Solicitors LLP, said the report was: "A truly shocking indictment of how the NHS is failing to offer even the most basic standards of care for the over 65's."

The study, a result of investigations carried out in 2009 and last year, highlights the gulf between the principles and values of the NHS Constitution and the depressing reality of being an elderly patient in the hands of the NHS in England today.

"The inhumane treatment, indignity and neglect that these elderly patients were subjected to," said Mark, an associate with the firm, "has been shown to be in stark contrast to the supposed principles of the NHS Constitution, namely a commitment to human rights, high-quality care and respect for patients and their families."

The Health Ombudsman, Ann Abraham, said that her findings revealed institutional as well as personal attitudes which failed to recognise 'the humanity and individuality of the patients concerned and to respond to them with sensitivity, compassion and professionalism.'

Echoing her thoughts, Mark said: "The perfectly reasonable expectation that an elderly patient may have of dignified, pain-free end of life care in clean and comfortable hospital surroundings is simply not being fulfilled."

Illustrating how all ten elderly patients suffered a catalogue of neglect at the hands of the doctors and nurses charged with their care, the report revealed how half of the ten patients studied were not given enough to eat or drink, with some having even been left unwashed or in soiled clothes for weeks on end.

"All ten of these patients had been loving, active people of a generation that 'didn't like to make a fuss," said Mark. "Like any patient simply wishing to be cared for properly while in the care of the NHS, all were found to have suffered unnecessary pain, indignity and distress. Their basic human needs were neglected and their suffering ignored. They were transformed from sharp and capable individuals to people who were malnourished, dehydrated and unable to communicate.

"It is truly shocking that out of these ten patients, nine died either in hospital or shortly after being discharged," said Mark. "Those who were discharged were simply forgotten or given the wrong medication. Whilst in hospital, not only were they denied drinking water and assistance in eating the inadequate food they were given, they were also denied the ability to summon help as well as the right to be washed and cared for in clean and comfortable surroundings. In several cases, these patients died without even having their loved ones at their sides due to the 'casual indifference' of staff and their 'bewildering disregard' for their patient's needs."

The Ombudsman warned that the cases detailed in the report were neither exceptional nor isolated, with almost one in five of the 9,000 complaints it received last year involving issues concerning the elderly such as dignity, healthcare associated infection, nutrition, discharge from hospital and personal care.

By 2034, 23 per cent of the population will be over 65, with rising levels of dementia placing additional burdens on care. The report states that extra resources alone will not help the NHS meet required standards of care 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.'

"This damning report dramatically highlights the urgent need for a radical change in attitudes towards the elderly within the NHS," said Mark. "The appalling failings in patient care exposed by these findings must act as a precursor to change. Not only do we need to wholly embrace a culture where poor practice is always challenged and patient care and quality are paramount, we also need to make certain that elderly patients are no longer treated as an inconvenience but are treated instead with the respect and compassion needed to ensure their dignity is never compromised."

Source - Health Service Ombudsman