'˜Basic human rights' of elderly patients ignored, says Yorkshire MP

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman said too many older people are suffering in silence.The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman said too many older people are suffering in silence.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman said too many older people are suffering in silence.
The 'BASIC human rights' of older people in hospital are not being adhered to, a Yorkshire MP has said, after a survey showed one in three family members have been concerned about the care of an elderly relative.

Some of the distressing incidents raised with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman and Gransnet include nurses laughing at a man who had fallen out of bed, an elderly woman being “groped” by a male patient who staff said got “confused”, and patients being forced to use “adult nappies” when they could have used a commode.

Labour MP for York Central, Rachael Maskell was elected as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for older people and ageing in July.

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“Lots of older people are not receiving the standard of care that we might expect,” she said. “People have no control over what is happening to them in what can be a frightening environment, and basic human rights are not being adhered to.”

As part of her new role, she plans to devise an enquiry looking into the rights of older people.

“We often hear about the rights of children under the UN Convention but there isn’t such a convention for older people, and I think it is absolutely crucial,” Ms Maskell said. “In Wales, they have set up a commission for older people and I want to see the same here in England. We can talk as much as we want about there needing to be change in the system but unless there is a baseline of rights for older people we have nothing to compare to.

“Older people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, not just in the health service but in other areas too, such as social care and housing, and this needs to be enshrined at a regulatory level.”

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Shelagh Marshall, chairman of Future Years, the Yorkshire and Humber Forum on Ageing, was a North Yorkshire county councillor for 28 years and has a wealth of experience dealing with complaints about the treatment of older people in hospital.

She said: “On a personal level, I am terrified of going into hospital because of the complaints I have received. I’ve heard of food being put down in front of someone, and it then being taken away untouched - but the reason they didn’t eat it was because they were blind and couldn’t see it.

“A friend who was terminally ill had so many complaints but wouldn’t allow me to complain for him, from losing his prescription spectacles to falling using a zimmer and breaking his thigh.

“There ought to be a better way for people in hospital to make lower-level complaints. Older people feel vulnerable but not everybody is able to articulate it.”

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Deputy chief officer at Age UK York, James Player, said that older people are very trusting of health staff, and this could be why they are “putting up with things that they shouldn’t”.

“This is a generation of people that are reluctant to make a fuss, whatever the circumstances,” he said. “People have to have the courage to speak out so that no one else will go through what they are going through.”

Cherrill Cliff, vice-chairman of Leeds Older People’s Forum said: “A lot of older people don’t have anyone to advocate on their behalf. When you are 80 or 90 and frail, complaining is hard, and there is a gratefulness that comes with that generation that does hide a lot of suffering.

“Most hospitals have a complaints procedure but is that given to the patients?”

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Mr Player also highlighted the high turnover of bank staff in hospitals could be an issue in reporting bad care.

“When bank nurses are constantly changing it can be difficult for an older person to build up a rapport with members of staff, so that could be an issue in speaking up,” he said. “It’s important that older people have a named nurse they can contact when they are in hospital.”

THESE ARE just some of the examples of poor care given to the Ombudsman as part of the survey:

- “If we didn’t visit at meal times I don’t think my father would have eaten as he wasn’t able to feed himself but the staff didn’t feed him either.”

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- “FIL (father-in-law) was often ignored when on the ward. Left on a bed pan for over an hour and was only helped off when family visited.”

- “Mum was groped by a male patient coming into her room. When I complained I was told ‘Oh yes, he gets confused’. Staff seemed to find her a nuisance rather than a scared and confused old lady.”

- Left in the same soiled clothes until we helped him to wash and dress himself - two days and nights.”

- “She broke her arm when left alone despite her severe infirmity.”

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