NCPC blasts elderly care report findings

14 October 2011
The National Council for Palliative Care and Dying Matters have described as 'scandalous' the findings of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) report which revealed that one in five hospitals is breaking the law in its treatment of the elderly.

Simon Chapman, Director of Policy and Parliamentary Affairs at the National Council for Palliative Care, said: "It is inexcusable and scandalous that so many hospitals are not only failing to treat older patients with dignity, but also breaking the law by putting lives in danger and not providing adequate food and water.

"How many more people need to be treated inappropriately, inhumanely and illegally before urgent action is taken and the people responsible held to account? We only get one chance to get it right for older people and those at the end of their lives which is why it is a tragedy when the quality of care provided in hospitals and elsewhere is unacceptable.

"We need a new deal for people who are elderly, with strong political leadership, much closer scrutiny, round the clock care and support available for those who need it and a more open approach to discussing the care of the vulnerable, including people who are dying."

The CQC visited 100 NHS hospitals unannounced and found that fewer than half feed elderly people properly or treat them with compassion or dignity.

Common areas of concern included staff failing to help patients with eating and washing, and a lack of patient privacy. Patients were routinely forced to use commodes next to their beds because staff were too busy to take them to the toilet.

Other issues included patients being left without intravenous fluids; call bells being put out of patients' reach, or not answered soon enough; and staff speaking to patients in a dismissive or disrespectful way.

The inspections were ordered by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley after several highly critical reports by campaigners, including the Patients Association.

In total, 45 hospitals were judged to be fully legally compliant, one in three needed to make improvements in one or both areas and one in five were so bad they were actually breaking the law in their treatment of the elderly.

The report identified three main reasons for the failures - a lack of leadership, poor attitude among staff and a lack of resources.

CQC chair Dame Jo Williams said: "The fact that over half of hospitals were falling short to some degree in the basic care they provided to elderly people is truly alarming and deeply disappointing. This report must result in action."

Earlier this year, the National Council for Palliative Care published 'No Dress Rehearsals', which examines the progress made in end of life care and outlines four key priorities to guide national and local developments. These are: building compassionate communities; training and education; leadership and champions; campaigning an social mobilisation. 

No Dress Rehearsals calls for more open discussion about dying and death to make it a real priority, along with more accountability when end of life care falls below acceptable standards. The report warns that without urgent action, end of life care will get worse, as the population is aging and so more people are expected to die. Within the next 20 years, deaths in England and Wales each year are expected to rise from 500,000 to 590,000, and so more and better services are required.

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