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Monday, January 18, 1999 Published at 02:11 GMT


Campaign to improve elderly care

Many elderly people are not receiving the best care in hospital

A two-year campaign to improve "shocking levels of ill treatment" for elderly people in hospital begins on Monday.

BBC Health Correspondent Fergus Walsh reports
Help the Aged's Dignity on the Ward campaign will focus on key areas such as feeding, cleaning, communication and dementia.

The organisation says a survey has shown that the needs of the elderly are "often the last to be met on overstretched acute wards".

The first step in the campaign is to gather as much information on the treatment of the elderly from the public.

Hilary Carter, a spokeswoman for the organisation, said: "We want to hear from them if they feel they have had a bad experience".

She said Help the Aged could give advice because people often did not know what constituted bad practice and whether they could complain.

Improving care

The campaign also wants to encourage people to lobby at a local and national level to improve standards of care.

It specifically aims to:

  • Ensure the government improves the care of older people in hospital;
  • Help NHS managers run hospitals to the standards older people expect;
  • Promote good practice for ward staff;
  • Help older people improve their situation if they encounter problems.

It will concentrate on ensuring the government's promised National Service Framework for the NHS includes a section on older people's needs, ensuring there are enough trained staff to care for the elderly and improve the hospital discharge process.

The campaign will also seek a review of the hospital complaints system and unannounced ward inspections.

Ms Carter said nurses got very little training in dementia care, although people over 50 made up half of the average acute ward.


[ image: The elderly complain of dirty wards, underfeeding and rushed staff]
The elderly complain of dirty wards, underfeeding and rushed staff
There was also a problem with recruiting nurses into elderly care because it was not seen as "an interesting area", she said.

But a scheme at Frenchay hospital in Bristol suggested ways the specialism could be improved.

The hospital has the country's first nurse specialist in dementia care services who is looking at new ways of communicating with people with dementia.

The Dignity on the Ward campaign follows October's Health Advisory Service 2000 report which found "great variability in the quality and effectiveness of care" for elderly people.

This included patients who needed help to eat being ignored and staff shortages.

Unnecessary deaths

Dr Simon Festing: "It's a case of respect"
Dr Simon Festing, leading the campaign, said: "For too many people, a stay in hospital is a nightmare experience.

"The Help the Aged campaign will be a dog at the heels of government and hospitals to make sure that quality care is not just a promise, but a reality for older people in hospital."

[ image: Dr Simon Festing:
Dr Simon Festing: "Nightmare experience"
The campaign is backed by the British Geriatrics Society and the Royal College of Nursing.

A letter in this week's British Medical Journal suggests elderly people may be dying unnecessarily because their needs are being ignored.

Dr David Goldhill and colleagues from the Royal London Hospital said they believe a failure to recognise signs of critical illness in the elderly may contribute to mortality rates on intensive care wards - possibly the "the tip of the iceberg" in preventable hospital deaths.

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