NHS treatment of older people is “failing to meet even the most basic standards of care” in some areas, a report published today by the health service ombudsman has found.
The report, which details “harrowing” experiences of 10 older patients at the hands of hospitals and GPs between 2009 and 2010, reveal “an attitude - both personal and institutional - which fails to recognise the humanity and individuality of the people concerned”, ombudsman Ann Abraham said.
In one case, a woman transferred to a care home by ambulance from a Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust hospital arrived with “numerous injuries”, soaked in urine, and wearing someone else’s clothes held up with paperclips.
At the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust, a man’s life support was switched off by nurses against his family’s express wishes. His family had not been informed that the man’s condition had worsened and a “do not attempt resuscitation” note placed on his records.
Ms Abraham said that in half of the cases documented, the patients involved did not consume adequate food and water while in hospital.
She said it was “incomprehensible” that the ombudsman needed to hold the NHS to account for basic aspects of care, such as assistance with eating if needed, drinking water, and the ability to call someone who will respond.
“Yet as the accounts in this report show, these most basic of human needs are too often neglected, particularly when the individual concerned is confused, or finds it difficult to communicate,” she said.
Ms Abraham warned these were not isolated incidents and the NHS needed to undergo an “urgent” widespread change in attitude towards older people.
Of nearly 9,000 properly made complaints to the ombudsman about the NHS last year, 18% were about the care of older people.
Among the other cases detailed in the report are those of:
- A man discharged from Royal Bolton Hospital NHS Trust with stomach cancer and inadequate pain relief, forcing his daughter to spend much of the days before his death driving around trying to fill morphine prescriptions;
- A woman who suffered nine falls at Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust, where nurses “failed to co-operate” with medical recommendations that she be given hip protectors and have a mattress placed next to her bed;
- A man who was left forgotten for three hours in an Ealing Hospital NHS Trust waiting room, as his wife’s condition deteriorated and the decision not to resuscitate her was made without him;
- A man whose life was put at risk when Ashford & St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust stopped treating him and discharged him when he was not medically fit.
Ms Abraham added: “These often harrowing accounts should cause every member of NHS staff who reads this report to pause and ask themselves if any of their patients could suffer in the same way. I know from my caseload that in many cases the answer must be ‘yes’.”
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: “We know that the NHS is expected to save up to £20bn in England alone, and with 27,000 posts already earmarked to be lost, it is inevitable that there will be an impact on frontline care.
“Where we have seen poor standards of care in the past, we have often found an underlying failure in ensuring safe staffing levels and the right level of skill.”
“The NHS sees over a million people every 36 hours and the overwhelming majority say they receive good care”, he continued. “But I fully appreciate that this will be of little comfort to patients and their families when they have been on the receiving end of poor care.
“NHS trusts need good systems in place to make sure every patient’s experience is the best it possibly can be.”