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.

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About Julia Manning

Julia Manning is a social entrepreneur, writer, campaigner and commentator. She is based in London and is the founder and Chief Executive of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal. Through networking, technology, research, relationships and campaigning 2020health has influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. Julia studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991. Her career has included being a visiting lecturer at City University, a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital, working with south London Primary Care Trusts and as a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. She specialised in diabetes (University of Warwick Certificate in Diabetic Care) and founded Julia Manning Eyecare in 2004, a home and prison visiting practice for people with mental and physical disabilities using the latest digital technology, which she sold to Healthcall (now part of Specsavers) in 2009. Experiences of working in the NHS, contributing to policy development, raising two children in the inner-city and standing in the General Election in Bristol in 2005 led to Julia forming 2020health at the end of 2006. Julia is a regular guest on TV and radio shows such as BBC News, ITV’s Daybreak/ GMB, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions, BBC Radio, LBC and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week. She is mum to a rugby-mad son, a daughter passionate about Shakespeare, and wife of a comprehensive school assistant head-teacher. She loves gardening, ballet, Zimbabwe, her Westies Skye and Angus, is an honorary research associate at UCL and a Fellow of the RSA.
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One Response to Careless and compassionless?

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