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Monday, November 2, 1998 Published at 13:57 GMT


Hospitals 'discriminate against elderly'

The elderly are offered worse care than the young, according to the report

Elderly people are being subjected to a catalogue of poor quality care and neglect on hospital wards, according to an independent report for the government.

The Health Advisory Service 2000 report has been backed by Health Secretary Frank Dobson who says that "for the first time in its history" the NHS will now set out clear standards of care for the elderly.

The report states that old people are discriminated against in hospital.

"There is great variation in the quality of care received by people in hospital," said Dr Simon Festing, campaign leader for Help the Aged's Dignity on the Ward campaign.

Help the Aged is one of the HAS' steering committee members.

"This includes between the young and old, between care in different parts of the country, in different hospitals in the same region, in different wards in the same hospital and from different staff on the same wards," said Dr Festing.

Lack of respect

The report found that some NHS staff were overtly ageist and lacked respect for the elderly.

[ image: Frank Dobson: 'older people have the right to top quality care']
Frank Dobson: 'older people have the right to top quality care'
Many were not given enough to eat or drink, some were put on trolleys before being admitted to wards and others were bundled out of hospital before they were well enough to be discharged.

Patients were often given little information about their condition and relatives were rarely involved in decisions.

Wards were frequently shabby with lights not working and windows broken and elderly people were often on mixed ward, which afforded them little privacy.

"It is lots of small problems which need to be tackled on different levels," said Dr Festing.


The HAS 2000 inquiry was set up on 12 November last year by Health Secretary Frank Dobson.

It followed the Help the Aged-backed Dignity on the Ward campaign in the Observer newspaper about the treatment of elderly people in UK hospitals.

The report recommends action on several levels, including:

  • NHS hospital chief executives to ensure proper standards of food and drink and clean sheets for all patients
  • work to begin on the preparation of clear standards for care of the elderly. Hospitals which do not meet the standards could face Department of Health intervention;
  • £30m to go to modernising accident and emergency departments by next April to ensure the elderly do not have to wait on trolleys;
  • investment in equipment to help the elderly move around in hospital;
  • a national patient survey to find out what patients think of their care;
  • a Long-Term Care Charter for people in hospital and nursing and residential homes;
  • a national service framework setting standards of care by April 2000;
  • all trusts to have training plans for health workers which include care of the elderly by 2002;
  • huge reduction in the number of mixed wards for the elderly by the year 2002.

Top quality care

Frank Dobson said the report would be sent to all hospital chief executives to ensure "the basics" of cleanliness and proper nutrition were available to all patients.

"OIder people have the right to receive top quality care wherever they are," he said.

He said many of the recommendations, such as the Long-Term Care Charter and the national service framework, were already underway.

He stressed that hospitals which did not come up to scratch would be required to improve "or face intervention".

[ image: Help the Aged says nurses need more training in recognising the needs of elderly people]
Help the Aged says nurses need more training in recognising the needs of elderly people
Help the Aged says it will be working with the Royal College of Nursing to support nurses and spread best practice.

It says many do not understand the needs of elderly people who are a growing population in hospitals.

It also wants NHS managers to give care of the elderly a greater priority.

"Quality of care is fundamental to the care of the patient. Studies have shown elderly people, for example, those who have suffered strokes, are not getting enough food or enough time or support to eat it. This impairs their recovery," said Dr Festing.

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