ST DAVID’S DAY REFLECTION
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.