I have often criticised the “Daily Mail” for it’s over sensational headlines, particularly those that raise unnecessary fears for older people. The title of this blog is their front page headline of the 2nd December and for that they deserve CONGRATULATIONS! More so because it was followed up the next day with a double page spread and a £50,000 donation to the Patients’ Association. Then on 4th December yet another double page spread (albeit by now relegated to pages 20 and 21), this time with politicians and celebrities jumping on board – from Andrew Lansley, the Minister of Health and Stephen Dorrell, a former Health Secretary to Jack Charlton, Ulrika Jonsson, Carol Vorderman, Duncan Bannatyne, Ann Widdecombe, Simon Cowell, Esther Rantzen (obviously none of them just wanting to step in the limelight of publicity).
The touch-paper of this “campaign” was lit by a report from the Patients’ Association which focussed on the significant increase in complaints about the care of older people in the NHS. This is far from a new issue, but it is one that has fallen on deaf ears so many times in the past. Let’s hope the legacy of Claire Raynor, who was until recently, President of the Patients’ Association, will put wind under the wings of this initiative.
They are a very small organisation who deserve the highest praise for managing to raise the profile of this issue on behalf of thousands of older people, past and present. The challenge for them now is can they keep up the momentum, and are they able to resource themselves, both financially and strategically to promote a major change in health care.
If we go back to the source of this issue, it is a rise in complaints about elderly patient care to over 5,000 a year. A number which has doubled since 2008, and will almost certainly be on the tip of an iceberg of real concern by residents and their relatives. Many patients are reluctant to complain, either for fear of stimulating a negative reaction or because they have no confidence anything will change.
The NHS management and the medical professions are renowned for their defensiveness when criticised. Yet many of the complaints highlighted in the report are indefensible:-
- Failing to feed people
- Failing to give them a drink
- Failing to provide personal care
- Failing to give relief from pain
- Not providing dignity or respect
All these things are at the lowest level of meeting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, are the very basics of good nursing care. They are neither expensive nor technologically difficult to provide, so why are they so frequently not available?
Step out of the NHS box for a minute and imagine we were talking about DOGS. Dogs that were not fed or given water; dogs that were never groomed or washed; dogs that were left sitting in their own urine and faeces; dogs knowingly left in pain. There would quite rightly be uproar. Neighbours would report owners to the RSPCA. The RSPCA would step in and take over care of the dogs. The dogs’ health care would promptly be attended to. Prosecution of the previous carers may well follow. Widespread neglect would attract the attention of animal rights campaigners and the general public would be fully behind them.
Perhaps the key difference is that pet care is provided by owners and animal support organisations, either voluntarily or through charitable donations. There is little Government support or intervention in support for pets.
You have to ask if the malaise which affects the lack of care of the elderly rather than blaming the medical carers on the wards, really starts at the top with the Government. Successive Governments have consistently under-funded elderly care while simultaneously increasing the burden of legislation that bears down on the care sector. I will write more about this later.
In the meantime, let’s wish well and God speed to this Patients Association report and Daily Mail campaign. Is £100,000 anything like enough – shouldn’t it be at least £1m? And will independent matrons really be able to turn around an elderly, careless NHS culture?
More later, what do you think?