Nurses told "treat elderly as humans, not tasks" by NHS chief
The chairman of the NHS Confederation has called on nurses to stop dismissing elderly people as merely "tasks to be completed".
In a speech to the Royal College of Nursing's annual conference in Harrogate, Sir Keith Pearson urged nurses to "look for the individual behind the mask of sickness and frailty" and assume every patient is somebody's grandparent, mother or father.
The NHS Confederation, a body for NHS service providers, is pressing for hospitals and care homes to dignify their care procedures and ensure that every patient is accorded respect.
Sir Keith's speech warned that examples of poor care occur far too often. He told nurses of the case of an elderly man at the Royal Bolton Hospital who had been left to become so dehydrated that he could not muster the strength to cry out for help.
The case of the neglected patient, who died after 3 days from stomach cancer, was one of numerous examples of poor care highlighted in a 2011 report by the Health Service Ombudsman.
Sir Keith stressed that this is neither the care nor the end-of-life experience that anyone wishes to see. "But I recognise, and I am sure you recognise that these examples are cropping up far too often.
"We cannot simply dismiss them as isolated incidents. For they are not just unacceptable instances of care, they also eat away at the reputation of the NHS, social care and our caring professions."
He added: "As individuals and as a profession, we must not see patients, particularly older people in our care, as a condition or a task to be completed."
"Behind the mask of sickness and frailty is a mother, a father and grandparent. Behind that same mask of sickness and frailty also lies a former teacher, a former postmistress, a former soldier."
Sir Keith heads an expert panel, the Commission on Improving Dignity in Care for Older People, which is seeking changes in the prevailing health service culture to ensure patients are treated compassionately at all times.
The panel was set up in 2011 after reports led to accusations that NHS nurses were neglecting the needs of vulnerable patients.
Although nurses stress that most people in the profession mean to deliver the highest standards of care, they say they are hindered by understaffed wards.
Earlier in the week nurses told the health secretary that they are routinely compelled to care for as many as 18 patients at once.
Andrew Lansley was also warned that hospitals are replacing senior nurses with untrained healthcare assistants to cut costs. According to statistics, the last 2 years have seen 3,500 nursing posts axed to meet savings targets.
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