Are our hospitals letting down older people?

This week health watchdog Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) published a summary report of its inspections of older people’s care in acute hospitals between August 2012 and April this year.  Age Scotland’s Doug Anthoney responded.

Man with nurse

It’s reassuring that 95% of patients reported good quality of care during their stay in hospital, however we can’t ignore that 5% say otherwise, representing a large number of older people who feel let down by the NHS. 

It’s very disappointing that 6 months on from the first HIS bi-annual summary report inspectors are still finding examples of incomplete or absent paperwork proving that patients have been screened for conditions such as dementia, malnutrition and pressure sores, and that plans have been put in place to personalise management of their care accordingly.  While HIS reports, it doesn’t explain, and it is high time that the NHS in Scotland gives older people an account of why this is happening and what can be done to address the problem.  We’re particularly concerned to learn of widespread confusion around powers of attorney, where in place; with records often unclear what decisions could be made on behalf of a patient.

It’s also disappointing that among the many daily positive interactions between staff and patients there are still examples of heedless comments and careless actions that are disrespectful of patient privacy, undermine their dignity or unnecessarily interrupt their meal-times.  NHS Boards should make it clear to staff that this is simply unacceptable, and ensure on-going training reinforces the message.

There are encouraging signs that overall ward environments are improving, meal-times are becoming better protected from interruption, and staff are more proactive in seeking patient feedback on their needs.  Examples of hospitals going the extra mile to keep patients active and stimulated are particularly welcome as they help ensure when people go home they are less likely to have to return.  We would like to see this becoming the rule, and not the exception.

We also welcome evidence that inspections work, with inspectors reporting real improvements during some follow up visits. HIS’ intention to increase the number of unannounced inspections is therefore good news for Scotland’s older people and their families.

Doug Anthoney is Age Scotland Communication and Campaigns Officer.  This post is part of the ‘Tomorrow’s Fish and Chip paper’ article series reporting the hot topics Age Scotland has been discussing with the media each week, and the Charity’s response.

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