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Ensuring dignity in the care of older people

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: (Published 26 January 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e533
  1. Jackie Morris, honorary research associate
  1. 1UCL Research Department of Primary Care and Population Health, Royal Free Hospital, London NW3 2PF, UK
  1. jackiemoris{at}

Should be the aim of all healthcare professionals, including doctors

The Patients Association annual report, We’ve been listening, have you been learning?, was published in November 2011. It detailed 16 accounts of poor hospital care, of predominantly older people, heard by its helpline in the past year.1 The report focused not only on the care patients received from nurses, but also on experiences of care from other professionals, including doctors.

Poor communication; a lack of empathy; and a failure to listen, respond, or explain were common complaints. Impaired hearing and sight often went unnoticed. The report highlighted failures to promote control, continence, and independence and a reluctance to give people time to be heard. It also noted poor pain control and poor management of distress, which led to inadequate end of life care. Relatives explained how disturbed they were to see patients ill-kempt, with dirty fingernails and soiled clothes. Hospital wards were often described as dirty and unhygienic. The cases illustrated the humiliation of being left in soiled sheets as patients were told to pass urine and faeces in their beds because it was easier for staff to change sheets than to take them to the toilet. Patients were not encouraged to eat or drink, and food and water were often out of …

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