Elderly patients left hungry and humiliated

By Ruth McKee

Elderly patients in hospitals across England are subject to 'alarming' care, with some hospitals allowing patients to go hungry or ignoring them completely, according to a report published today.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) carried out unannounced inspections of 100 hospitals across England and found only 45 to meet basic standards on providing adequate care in terms of nutrition and dignity to elderly patients.

In some cases the regulator discovered 'alarming' practices such as help bells being placed out of patients' reach, staff treating their elderly patients in a patronising or dismissive manner and found some patients subject to humiliation when curtains failed to be closed properly around their beds during examinations and procedures.

The CQC also found that often patients were left to go hungry when staff failed to properly assist in feeding those who had difficulty eating, with meals left to go cold before help was given.

"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," CQC chair Dame Jo Williams said.

"This report must result in action," she added.

Charities which had lobbied health secretary Andrew Lansley to instigate the inspections have said the report confirms what they knew informally about care of the elderly in hospitals.

"This shows shocking complacency on the part of those hospitals towards an essential part of good healthcare and there are no excuses," said Michelle Mitchell, charity director of Age UK.

Age UK is demanding the commission now carry out spot checks of hospitals on a regular basis and is lobbying for hospitals to publish rates of malnutrition on their wards.