Patients Association deems hospitals’ care of older patients “unacceptable”

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 10 November 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7321
  1. Ingrid Torjesen
  1. 1London

Care delivered to older patients by many hospitals in England is “unacceptable” and “deeply concerning,” the Patients Association claims in a report published on 9 November.

The report details 16 shocking accounts of poor hospital care provided in English hospitals recounted by patients’ families to the association’s helpline in the last year.

The cases seem to show that care is falling down in four fundamental areas—care communication, access to pain relief, assistance with toileting, and help with eating and drinking.

One of the cases outlined in the report involves a woman whose daughter despaired at the failure of nurses to attend to her mother’s basic hygiene needs when she was a patient at Frimley Park Hospital. Another concerns a woman who was often left “desperately thirsty” while treated at Southend Hospital, Essex, where nurses also neglected her toileting needs, according to her daughter.

The report explains how one woman had to run down a hospital corridor screaming for help because her husband was dying in his bed and nobody had answered the call buzzer. Another man had to wait seven hours for an ambulance and then was not given any pain relief on arrival at hospital.

Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “The accounts of care contained in this report shame everyone involved. It’s simply not good enough for this report to be recognised and then business to carry on as usual. There needs to be a culture shift in the way we treat patients on our wards. ”

The families involved said that they had had other experiences of unsatisfactory care, which emphasised that the stories were “not isolated incidents, but represent a systemic problem within the National Health Service,” said the report.

It also points out that in the cases of bad care, highlighted patients had a relative to speak up for them, but that there are many patients who have no one to speak up for them or challenge the care nurses are giving them. “It is for those patients that changes need to be made in the future,” the report says.

The Patients Association’s report follows similar dossiers of failings in care of the elderly in hospitals documented by the Care Quality Commission and the health service and parliamentary ombudsman. In October the Care Quality Commission published a report on 100 unannounced hospital inspections that showed more than half of hospitals were not meeting key standards of dignity and nutrition (BMJ 2011;343:d6645, doi:10.1136/bmj.d6645). In February, a report from the ombudsman on 10 older patients concluded that basic standards of care were not being met and that patients were enduring unnecessary pain, indignity, and distress (BMJ 2011;342:d1064, BMJ 2011; doi:10.1136/bmj.d1064).

The NHS Confederation, the organisation which represents NHS managers, has set up a joint commission on dignity in care with Age UK and the Local Government Association, which started taking evidence in public on 10 November.

Sir Keith Pearson, chair of the NHS Confederation and co-chair of the commission, said: “I believe passionately that this is a leadership issue. The boards of hospital trusts as well as the staff who walk the wards and care for patients have a responsibility to respond to the challenge before us. Our purpose is to care and we need to take responsibility for the issues that really matter to the people who use our services. We hope to understand why problems persist and find practical ways forward.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7321