Careless and compassionless?

“Do not cast me away when I am old;
do not forsake me when my strength is gone.” Psalm 71v9

Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman Ann Abraham’s report into the care of older people “Care and compassion” today reveals shameful failings of care of the elderly. She focuses on end of life care but we mustn’t think this is the only issue, nor is it simply a ‘health’ issue.

The Times (£) sees it as a conflict between what falls into ‘healthcare’ and what falls into ‘social care’ categories and they have a point. Nursing used to be the holistic care of the patient, tending to medical and personal needs. Some blame the increasing academic and medical training of nurses that have left some blind to the simple human needs of an elderly patient; others blame a rigorous, enforced division on the ward of health and social care functions. Some think that it’s targets or excessive procedural reporting that are to blame. There will be significance in all of these reasons but we are still left with a loss of compassion for humanity that leads to the neglect featured in the report.

And it is this loss of compassion which is such an indictment and demonstrates that this is not simply a health issue, or an individual one either. On the 8.10am feature on the R4 Today programme someone mentioned ‘more training’ for nursing staff – but what has happened to society if we need to be trained to ‘care’ for the vulnerable? The people featured in the report were surrounded by professionals, not a single-handed carer. The real shock is that groups of professionals neglected these people, it wasn’t just one person. Nurses, doctors, consultants, porters, healthcare assistants, receptionists all walked by on the other side.

Nearly a year ago I wrote in our manifesto that we need to raise the status of caring. That need has not changed, and in this context we should all (from Government to the individual) be asking ourselves how we treat the elderly – in the street, as we drive, as we shop, at our workplace, as well as in our hospitals and surgeries – and how we can express respect as well as compassion. Nothing less should do.

And there are places where this happens – I want to end this miserable story on a high. I’ve got to know Swanage Cottage Hospital in the past few years. The quality of care, determination to do their best, consideration of patients and attention to detail (afternoon tea and changing the water in patient’s flowers, not just their drinking jugs!) and the willingness to discuss a mistake or problem that I witnessed was superb. It can be done.

About Julia Manning

Julia is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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