Published: 10/10/2002, Volume II2, No.5826 Page 22 23

Professor Ian Philp's comments about deteriorating quality of care for older people on acute wards should serve as a wakeup call to the NHS.

Help the Aged has long campaigned for improvements in acute hospital care for older people, and welcomed the national service framework for older people in March 2001.

But while there has been progress since then, sadly the horror stories continue.

Protecting patients' dignity and privacy on acute wards is not rocket science, and doesn't cost the earth. In 1999, Help the Aged demonstrated that small steps can have a huge impact on the experience of a hospital stay.

Simple things like asking how a patient would like to be addressed (rather than just using their first name), or ensuring patients who need help at mealtimes receive it (rather than just removing food untouched), make a huge difference to the patient's experience. Quality in the NHS is about much more than clinical standards.

Perhaps the most important message is that we must not take our eye off the ball. The framework is probably the best chance for a generation to deliver a world-class service.

Implementing it successfully requires contributions from all those involved in planning, organising and delivering care, from the chief executive to the GP's receptionist. And it is only by truly listening to older people themselves that hospitals can improve the patient experience.

Jonathan Ellis Health policy officer Help the Aged