Norwich man to talk to MPs about equality

Poor treatment of older people in the NHS is an attitude problem

Poor treatment of older people in the NHS is an attitude problem

Health service ombudsman report reveals shocking treatment of the over-65s, who are being failed again and again

Some patients were not offered help with eating or bathing, and one was left in urine-soaked clothes held together with paper clips.
Mrs H was an independent woman who lived on her own until the age of 88 and loved literature and crosswords. This picture of this strong, dignified woman contrasts with the appalling treatment she suffered at the hands of the NHS. After a spell in hospital following a fall, she arrived at a care home with numerous injuries, soaked with urine and dressed in clothing that did not belong to her held up with paper clips. She had several bags of dirty clothing with her, much of which did not belong to her and just a few possessions left of her own. She was highly distressed, dishevelled and confused and had lost 5kg (11lb) since her admission to hospital. She died in August 2010.

This is just one of 10 shocking stories of people aged over 65 documented in a new report by the health service ombudsman . It highlights a range of clinical and operational failures; people at the end of life being discharged from hospital without correct pain relief, failure to deal with infection properly, malnutrition and dehydration. These are by no means isolated cases – 18% of complaints to the ombudsman last year were about care of older people and they investigated more than twice as many as for all other age groups put together.

Yet, as the ombudsman, Ann Abraham, reflects, this report reveals that at the heart of the problem is an attitude – both personal and institutional – which fails to treat older patients compassionately or respond to their individual emotional and social needs. One family was not informed when their father’s life support machine was switched off; a husband was left in a waiting room, forgotten about while his wife lay dying in the ward next door; a man with advanced stomach cancer was left behind a drawn curtains desperate to go to the toilet and unable to ask for help because he was so dehydrated he could not speak properly or swallow.

It’s difficult to imagine us allowing any other group of people to suffer this indignity and neglect, yet when it comes to older people it’s commonplace; as a society we often fail to value or treat older people equally. History shows fundamentally shifting people’s attitudes to overcome discrimination isn’t easy – it takes time and concerted effort – but nowhere is this more important than in the NHS where people over 65 make up 60% of all admissions. Only by casting these prejudices aside can we start seeing older people like Mrs H as individuals and respond properly to their needs.

Equality legislation outlawing age discrimination – due to come into force in 2012 – will certainly help. But in a period of huge reorganisation, support needs to be given to translate this into action on the ground. We also need better training of health professionals to care for growing numbers of people living with multiple health conditions and frailty. To end the scandal of malnutrition, we are calling for a commission to bring renewed focus to this issue and a strategy for change.

But this report also demands answers to some difficult questions to those leading the NHS through the proposed set of reforms. Will this huge shakeup reduce the risk of older people receiving this sort of treatment? Do they promise any positive change for vulnerable, frail patients?

I remain unconvinced that, as the reforms stand, they will deliver the improvements to the health outcomes and care of older people that are so urgently needed. For the sake of all the people featured in this report and all of us who need NHS care now and in the future, the secretary of state needs to answer these questions.

• Michelle Mitchell is charity director at Age UK

Carers’ manifesto gives candidates a yellow card

Carers’ manifesto gives candidates a yellow card

Monday February 14 2011

A mother who cares for her severely disabled son round the clock has become the public face of a ‘yellow card’ campaign targeting election candidates.

Alison McKim, from Terenure in Dublin, who looks after her son Zach (19), has fronted the campaign in a bid to highlight the plight of the country’s 160,000 carers.

“Zach is totally dependent. He was born with with cerebral palsy, is blind and suffers from seizures,” said Alison at the pre-election manifesto launch by the Carers’ Association.

She had only managed to get a few hours’ sleep the night before.

“Zach got quite chesty at about 10pm last night and I had to give him nebulisers and chest physiotherapy.

“By the time he was settled back it was 1.30am and he was awake at 4.30am this morning, suffering a couple of seizures.

“Thankfully they were not too bad and we got him back to sleep at 5.30am and we were back up again at 6.30am to get him up and ready for the day, giving medications and spoon feeding.”

Alison is reliant on the carers’ allowance of €204 a week but that was cut by €8 in the Budget.

She is thankful to the Carers’ Association for providing some hours respite every week but sometimes those 12 hours are the only time she can leave the house.

The yellow cards have been distributed across the country and feature Alison and Zach with a simple message: Act now for Ireland‘s invisible workforce.

Carers have been given a list of questions to put to candidates in advance of the election.

Enda Egan, the organisation’s chief executive, appealed to candidates to call to carers’ doors as so many are housebound.

The carers are also mounting their first virtual campaign which involves pictures of themselves holding up messages which can be uploaded and sent to They are emailed to candidates.

Some of the poignant messages so far underline the carers’ despair.

One woman says: “Slave labour — do you work for less than €1 an hour?”

Another young girl looking after a relative simply says: “All work, no play.”

Mr Egan said family carers felt badly let down despite promises to protect the most vulnerable in society.

He said they had been the victims of harsh cuts and much reduced support services.