Nurses on the spot

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IN the week when it emerged that a desperate Yorkshire family had sent their own carers into Bradford Royal Infirmary because they were so concerned at the lack of compassion shown towards an elderly relative, it is welcome that the number of spot checks is to be dramatically increased.

The heart-rending stories of the frail and vulnerable, who have been neglected because they were too weak to demand acceptable levels of treatment, have shocked the nation.

However, the issue is more complicated than the Care Quality Commission having powers, for example, to close down those hospital wards where neglect is identified. These wards are already operating at capacity, and closure will only exacerbate bed shortages.

A better understanding is required about the reasons why some patients have not been fed or bathed regularly. And, given that most nurses joined the NHS because they want to help make people better, it is likely that staff shortages – and other workload issues – are likely to be factors.

The Government’s response will be indicative of whether this is a substantive new approach or another example of gesture politics, especially as the CQC has had to reduce its own staffing levels.

Spot-checks alone will not suffice. Ministers needs to make it far easier for relatives to lodge complaints about mistreatment – they are, at present, passed from hospitals to funding providers and so forth.

These arrangements need to be put in place now rather than waiting for the new HealthWatch scheme to be launched in one year’s time.

While Andrew Lansley, the Secretary of State, might understand the mechanics of his new NHS structure, the public do not – and that this only adds to their sense of exasperation and helplessness when they’re trying to secure the best possible care for loved ones.