NHS 'has forgotten we're humans'

A bleak outlook for elderly patients in the NHS
A bleak outlook for elderly patients in the NHS

By Alex Stevenson

Older people are being let down by an NHS failing them both personally and institutionally, a damning report out today has concluded.

Health ombudsman Ann Abraham's examination of ten complaints led to her concluding that the NHS is not treating older people with care, compassion, dignity or respect.

Its shocking findings identified failings with the personal attitudes of NHS staff towards their patients as much as systemic structural problems.


One elderly woman who had broken her collar bone after a fall in hospital was sent to a care home soaked in urine and wearing clothes that were not her own, held up with large paper clips. Her niece, her only relative, was not told about her falls while in hospital.

"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'," Ms Abraham said.

"The NHS must close the gap between the promise of care and compassion outlined in its constitution and the injustice that many older people experience.

"Every member of staff, no matter what their job, has a role to play in making the commitments of the constitution a felt reality for patients."

Nigel Edwards, the acting chief executive of the NHS workers' organisation the NHS Confederation, said the stories made for "distressing reading".

He called for the ten examples to be put into "perspective", however.

"The NHS sees over a million people every 36 hours and the overwhelming majority say they receive good care," he said.

"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."

The highest-profile instance of poor care in recent years has come from Stafford hospital, where hundreds of people are believed to have unnecessarily lost their lives because of poor standards.

Local campaigning group Cure The NHS has succeeded in its campaign to secure an independent inquiry. But its founder, Julie Bailey, continues to monitor problems within the NHS.

"As alarming as the contents of these dreadful stories are, and our hearts goes out to all of the loved ones involved, the lamentable accounts of 'what happened next' are just as disturbing," she said.

"We know from bitter experience that what each hospital promised to do is meaningless, it will already have happened again, over and over again.

"Who can change this? One group of people only; the million staff that make up the NHS. Legislation cannot change the culture in an institution as large as the NHS, it's a fundamental change of behaviour by the frontline staff in particular that is needed."

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