A harrowing report on care for the
elderly has accused the UK hospital system of lacking care and compassion and
failing to meet even the most basic standards of care. Ann Abraham, the Health Service Ombudsman for England, detailed the
treatment of 10 people.

“The investigations [she
writes] reveal an attitude – both personal and institutional – which fails to
recognise the humanity and individuality of the people concerned and to respond
to them with sensitivity, compassion and professionalism. The reasonable
expectation that an older person or their family may have of dignified,
pain-free end of life care, in clean surroundings in hospital is not being

The stories do not
make easy reading. Nine of the ten patients died before the report was
published. Basic needs – cleanliness, sufficient food, nutritious food, water,
wound dressing – were often neglected, especially if the patient was confused.

But Ms Abraham
faults the attitude of the staff of the National Health Service more than its
diminishing resources. “The difficulties encountered by the service users and
their relatives were not solely a result of illness, but arose from the
dismissive attitude of staff, a disregard for process and procedure and an
apparent indifference of NHS staff to deplorable standards of care.”

In the same week in
which the report, “Care and compassion?” was published,
the NHS announced that it was shedding 1,000 jobs at two London hospitals. This
underscores the unsettling vision of what the future holds for the elderly
which is painted by the report:

“These complaints come from a
population of health service users that is ageing. There are now 1.7 million
more people over the age of 65 than there were 25 years ago and the number of
people aged 85 and over has doubled in the same period. By 2034, 23 per cent of
the population is projected to be over 65. As life expectancy increases, so
does the likelihood of more years spent in ill health, with women having on
average 11 years and men 6.7 years of poor health. Nearly 700,000 people in the
UK suffer from dementia, and the Alzheimer’s Society predicts that this figure
will increase to 940,000 by 2021 and 1.7 million by 2051. The NHS will need to
spend increasing amounts of time and resource caring for people with multiple
and complex issues, disabilities and long‑term conditions and offering palliative care to people at the end of
their lives.”

The unsettling conditions described in the report will certainly have an impact on the “dying with dignity” debate in the UK. If bad food, horrid nurses and soiled nappies are what Britons can expect in the final years, some of them will surely want to avoid the distress and humiliation. ~ Health Service

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet. He lives in Sydney, Australia.