I’ve just been watching the moving ceremony of remembrance and the wonderful Chelsea Pensioners singing about their brothers that they will never forget. Their pride and dignity shone through. Death and taxes, along with NHS change, are the three certainties in life. And when death comes, ideally in old age, it should be in dignified circumstances cushioned with care and compassion, with the alleviation of pain and as far as possible, minimal distress. Today’s report in the Telegraph, picked up from the BMJ (£), describes that “Three out of five elderly patients who die in hospital within a month of surgery do not receive good care, according to the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome (NCEPOD), a charity set up by the medical royal colleges.”
And this comes on a day when we remember with regret those ‘who will not grow old’, acknowledging that becoming elderly should be part of life’s journey. At a time when families from Staffordshire are also re-living the pain of the circumstances in which their family members died prematurely or suffered appallingly sub-standard care, this report is heartbreaking; shocking; an indictment of our society and of some NHS staff who seem to have forgotten what they are there for.
Ceremonies that we have seen today and will see more of on Sunday, where the elderly who have worked and contributed to our country receive our expressions of gratitude are not common enough. But more than that, we have a cultural problem, where no matter who is delivering it, we too often forget the ‘servant’ part of ‘Public Service’ and instead of being served, we see the elderly left behind at bus stops, left thirsty and in pain in hospital, have social care withdrawn and charged more because they don’t have a bank account.
Shaping and changing our culture has to happen at every level: government considering the impact of policies on the elderly; TV soaps thinking about how they portray older people; teachers and parents instilling respect for the elderly; hospitals being rated by elderly patients (or their families) and fined for neglect. CQC have the power to do the latter, but their track record isn’t exactly great and their processes way too long and bureaucratic. Reforming CQC to enable quick responses, public confidence and accountability would be a good start.