A series of “harrowing” complaints against the NHS has exposed how older people are being failed, according to the health service ombudsman.
In a damning report, Ann Abraham said the 10 complaints showed neglect of even the “most basic” human needs.
The report detailed how one patient transferred by ambulance to a care home arrived bruised, soaked in urine, dishevelled and wearing someone else’s clothes. In another case, a man’s life support system was switched off despite a request from his family to delay doing so for a short time.
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.
She said: “Underlying such acts of carelessness and neglect is a casual indifference to the dignity and welfare of older patients. That this should happen anywhere must cause concern – that it should take place in a setting intended to deliver care is indefensible.”
The report detailed failures to provide clean and comfortable surroundings, help with eating, drinking water provision and the ability to call someone who will respond. There were also failures in pain control, discharge arrangements and communication with patients and their relatives.
Half the people in the report did not consume adequate food or water during their time in hospital and the cases showed instances of older people unwashed and left in soiled or dirty clothes. Ms Abraham said money alone would not help the NHS to fulfil its own standards of care.
She said: “Like all of us, they wanted to be cared for properly and, at the end of their lives, to die peacefully and with dignity. What they have in common is their experience of suffering unnecessary pain, indignity, and distress while in the care of the NHS.”
Care services minister Paul Burstow said: “This report exposes the urgent need to update our NHS. We need a culture where poor practice is challenged and quality is the watchword. The dignity of frail older people should never be sidelined.”
Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the cases made for “distressing” reading. “Every NHS patient, whatever their age, deserves to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect. To offer anything less is completely unacceptable and we should be absolutely clear about that on behalf of everyone in the NHS,” he said.