Care of elderly in hospitals causes alarm

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After the Care Quality Commission (CQC) made unannounced visits to 100 hospitals to assess dignity and nutrition standards, 55 were found to be "alarming".

Areas of concern included poor hygiene, lack of support for those who needed help with eating and curtains not being closed properly.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley ordered the inspections after several critical reports by campaigners.

The 100 sites inspected, over a third of the total in England, were both randomly selected and chosen because of reported existing concerns about standards.

45 were judged fully compliant and 35 met official standards on dignity and nutrition with room for improvement, while 20 failed on one or both.

In 2 cases, Sandwell General in West Bromwich and Alexandra Hospital in Worcestershire, the problems were judged to be major issues for elderly patients.

At Sandwell, the ward with the most problems has since closed, while a follow-up visit to the Alexandra showed improvements had been made.

Moderate problems were noted at James Paget in Great Yarmouth. However, when on a return visit the issues were still unresolved, the hospital received notice that it could face prosecution or service closures.

The regulator spotted common problems during the inspections, including call bells out of patients' reach, staff speaking to patients condescendingly or dismissively and curtains not properly closed.

Some elderly people who needed it were not given help eating, while patients' meals were often unfinished due to frequent interruptions.

The regulator also said that in too many cases patients could not wash their hands before eating.

Three main reasons were identified by the report for the failures: a lack of leadership, poor attitude among staff and a lack of resources.

Dame Jo Williams, chairperson of the CQC said: "The fact that over half of hospitals were falling short to some degree in the basic care they provided to elderly people is truly alarming and deeply disappointing. This report must result in action."

For the Royal College of Nursing, Janet Davies accepted there could be "no excuse", but added the squeeze in finances was making it harder to keep ward standards high.

"Evidence shows that patient safety and quality of care is improved when you have the right numbers and the right skills in place on wards," she said.

Neil Fearn, Medical Negligence Solicitor of Simpson Millar LLP agreed with both the government and the NHS Confederation that the situation is unacceptable. "These unannounced visits by CQC meant that hospitals were caught off-guard," he said, "suggesting that poor care of the elderly could be worryingly commonplace. Hopefully in the light of this report trusts will take note and act positively."


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