NHS: Elderly care dossier shows 'shameful attitudes'

Nurse and patient Attitudes to elderly people in the NHS are shameful, says the Patients Association

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A dossier containing "shameful" stories about the care elderly patients receive in NHS hospitals in England has been published by campaigners.

The Patients Association said the 16 cases include people being denied pain relief, left to sit in their own faeces and going without food and drink.

It comes after criticism from other groups and the charity said it was highlighting the tip of the iceberg.

The government said it was determined to "root out poor performance".

A programme of unannounced inspections would continue, the Department of Health added.

Last month the Care Quality Commission attacked hospitals for what the regulator said were "alarming" levels of care.

The Health Service Ombudsman also raised concerns about the issue in February, reporting that nearly a fifth of complaints it got were related to the care of the elderly.

As well as highlighting the 16 cases, the Patients Association said the number of calls to its helpline regarding care on hospital wards had already hit 961 this year - a third more than the total made throughout the whole of 2010.

Left sitting in faeces

George Taylor was admitted to Chase Farm Hospital in London in August with a urinary tract infection and chest problem. His family said he received a shocking level of care while there.

On one day, he was told by a nurse to go to the toilet sitting in his chair because she did not have time to take him to a bathroom. He did and his family then found him sitting in his own faeces. His wife had to clean him up.

His family also said he was often not washed, and the smell became overpowering at times. He was also discharged too early and was soon admitted to another hospital, where doctors said he should not have been released at all.

Mr Taylor's daughter, Gaynor Marshall, said: "The nursing staff treated him as an object that they had to treat rather than a human being." A complaint has now been made about his care.

The Patients Association said the failings fell into four broad categories - communication, assistance going to the toilet, pain relief and nutrition.

And it called on NHS trusts to sign up to a pledge to ensure these four areas of care become top priorities.

It said responsibility for the problems lay with everyone from individual staff on the wards to senior managers on the board.

Among the cases highlighted are a patient who was left sitting in his own faeces for hours after a nurse told him he should empty his bowels in his chair because she did not have time to help him go to the toilet.

In another case, a family of a patient had to beg for pain relief for a dying woman before waiting for nearly two hours for help to arrive.

And one man had to wait for 15 minutes to have his call buzzer answered despite having to desperately struggle for breath.

It is the third time the Patients Association has published individual stories like this.

'Poor performance'

Katherine Murphy, the charity's chief executive, said: "We cannot ignore the fact that some trusts are not even paying lip service to the fundamentals of care.

Dying patient in 'terrible' pain

Sally Abbott-Sienkiewicz

Sally Abbott-Sienkiewicz was admitted to Glenfield Hospital in Leicester in November last year. She was terminally ill with cancer and had developed pneumonia. She died within two days.

But throughout her time there, her family had to battle to get her pain relief. They said she was left in terrible pain - sometimes for more than an hour - as they argued with staff to give her sedatives. The worst problems were experienced during the night.

Her daughter Samantha White said at times her pain was "horrendous and horrific", but staff were too slow to react.

Suzanne Hinchliffe, chief nurse at the trust which runs Glenfield, said: "It is clear that we completely failed Mrs Abbott-Sienkiewicz and her family, and for that we remain very sorry." She added that measures were being taken to improve practices.

"The issues we continue to highlight are human rights issues. They show a lack of compassion and care and a shameful attitude to treatment of the elderly."

Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the patients had been "clearly failed" in the cases highlighted.

"Each and every nurse is personally accountable for their own actions and must act promptly to raise concerns if staffing levels or other pressures get in the way of delivering good patient care."

But he also said managers must take responsibility, pointing out that job cuts were making it more difficult to provide good care.

The publication of the Patients Association report has also coincided with an announcement by the government that it is looking to improve standards for healthcare assistants, who are providing an increasing amount of care on wards.

These staff are currently unregulated, but the Department of Health is looking to introduce new rules by 2013 to ensure that they reach a minimum training levels before being allowed to work. However, indications are that this will be a voluntary requirement, which has disappointed some.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "The Patients Association is right to raise these examples and issues, and we will work with them and with the NHS to sort these problems out."

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