“Neglect Shames Britain” 4


February 2011 was quite a momentus month of news about the elderly.  I don’t think I can remember a month with so many front page headlines and numerous graphic accounts of neglect of the elderly.  Not just in the press but also on television and radio. 

It was all prompted by a report by the Ombudsman on complaints about the way elderly people are treated in the NHS.  At the beginning of the month it looked like the issue, which was first flagged up in December 2010, by the Patient’s Association Campaign championed by the Daily Mail.  At long last it seemed like it might finally take off.

Then came the announcement of a Royal Wedding; the turmoil of political change in North Africa and the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. 

WHOOSH !!!!      Rather like a Formula 1 car race, it was headlines one minute and history the next.  All the attention goes to the car in the front and it wasn’t the elderly for long. 

The problem is old people die everyday.  They are expected to.  It is not a nice experience and tragedies sometimes happen.  We can do nothing to stop it so maybe it’s just better to forget it.  Put it in the back of our collective minds and move on to the next headline.  Bereavement is not a happy subject nor one where there are any quick-pill solutions.  It’s like global warming – an inconvenient truth.

Let’s change the prospective for a minute:-

What if it was not the elderly we were talking about, what if it was children?

What if thousands of children were dying in our hospitals from starvation/dehydration/everyday infections and all without pain control?

It’s not even possible to imagine that hospital staff could walk past children in this situation as if they didn’t exist.  Their compassion and concerned relatives would be at the forefront of ensuring that the best possible care and attention was made available.

Young children don’t deserve to die.

Have we, as a society, come to believe old people do?

At the end of the month, the newspaper headlines have moved on but the TV Documentary channels were just taking up the issue of elderly neglect.  On the same night, just one hour apart on the 29th February, they portrayed two very contrasting views.  One on the “Dispatches” programme on Channel 4 – almost too difficult to watch – was an investigative “fly on the wall” film about end of life care in the NHS.  All of it reflected the awful experiences of patients and their relatives.  A chilling portrayal of the headlines from the beginning of the month.  At the end of the programme, the all too familiar apologies from the NHS and Social Services.  Followed by the less than credible promises that “lessons will be learned”.

Not so long as society believes the elderly deserve to die, they won’t!

In our collective grief about this neglect, it is natural to want to lash out at someone or something, and the NHS and Social Services are the first in the firing line.  I believe that most people who work in these services are decent caring staff who want to do a good job.  They succeed superbly well in looking after children, so why does it all change when it comes to older people.  Could it be that our expectations of later life are so low that life is not worth living.  Have we, as a society, not yet come to terms with the fact that most people are going to live much longer.  More health care will be needed for some people but the majority will lead healthy and active lives. 

There is a vision of later life which could be the salvation of our society if older people are encouraged to use their wealth of experience, skills and financial resources, to find a new way of living in older age.  The second TV programme was on BBC2 in a short series called “When Teenage Meets Old Age”.  It is an inspiring example of what generations working together can give to each other.

Out of a Winter of neglect, surely we can on this first day of Spring, find a new vision of older and younger people working together for a better life.


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2 Responses to “Neglect Shames Britain” 4

  1. david freeman says:

    Navel Contemplation. The Day After St. Davids’ Day
    John your last message (Reflections on St Davids’ Day) on Care for the elderly in hospital has rattled my cage, and on this open forum I may be speaking out of turn. So here goes!!
    Your sentiments of lack of care for the elderly in hospitals and care homes are commendable, and there should be adequate and achievable standards as to the welfare and care of the elderly.
    This is simple John, but have you turned over the page? Here I would personally have a conversation with my spouse, the doctor, and maybe the man of the cloth.
    Old age is bedevilling and cruel, and after some years in this world what do I want as the old age person? My recollections of elderly family and family friends who have passed away before me have expressed (All Be It humorously )a shooting season for those over 3 score years and ten, when life does not become a bonus but a burden, not only on their loved ones but chiefly themselves.
    Should we not as a society have an open dialogue on our own death? And encourage our nearest and dearest to partake in that conversation. It is difficult, and as I mentioned above I would talk when the time comes with my spouse, close family, the doctor, and maybe the man of the cloth.
    I am sure this is not the response you may have expected, but you have pushed my buttons, and while as a family member I wish the best welfare and care for my elderly relatives, I also wish them well in any decision that they made have at the end of their lives which gives them concern should the struggle for life persist.
    So John you and I , and the royal we, fight for a higher standard of care and welfare, dignity and compassion in the elderly, but also for their personal wishes to be abided by. I know a picture is worth a thousand words, but in this instant are the media telling the right story every time?
    Even at my age I remain open to differing views and my education is still all part of living.

    • John Graham says:

      This is not a subject for simple solutions but your post raises a very good point. I agree this will be discussed much more in families in the years ahead as older people live much longer.
      Right now I am sure your wife would say to you “hang around for a while and continue to share a happy retirement with me” Your Doctor will want you to do everything you can to live a long healthy life well beyond the age of 70, and the Vicar will tell you to leave the final decision in the safe hands of God Almighty.
      I on the other hand am loading my shotgun ready for your 70th birthday party, if you really want to go out with a bang 🙂

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