The independent care regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) says snap inspections at NHS hospitals in England found one in five of them neglecting elderly patients to such an extent that they were breaking the law.
The CQC conducted unannounced visits at 100 hospitals, and found cause for concern at more than half of them. It said there were too many cases of patients stripped of dignity and respect; ignored for hours on end, or not given help to eat, drink, or go to the toilet.
The commission's director of operations Amanda Sherlock said the problems stem from a "lack of leadership" in NHS hospitals.
"There should be no excuse from the trust boards, from the nurses and doctors and care assistants providing care directly or from the population in general," she told Today presenter James Naughtie.
"Older people have a right to expect basic standards of dignity and nutrition. Care should not be a lottery, it should not be that if you are number 49 of 50 patients that you get good quality care but if you happen to be number 50 you don't get good quality care. It should be consistently meeting essential standards."
The Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, told the programme that the government's planned changes to the NHS in England will help address many of the problems.
"The CQC and many people across the NHS themselves felt that the target approach, the top-down target approach meant that not only they as doctors and nurses looking after patients but also the patients themselves, felt they were all on some kind of production line. And that is, nursing care, healthcare is not like that," he explained.
"People should be treated as individuals, they have individual needs; it's why right at the forefront of the process of modernising and improving quality in the NHS is the principle of patients having a greater sense of information and control of their care.
"If patients are given information, are treated as individuals, then they are much more likely also to feel that they can raise problems when they occur and get response to their needs."
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