It has been difficult to read the patient stories unveiled by the health service ombudsman Ann Abraham in her report on care of older people last week
Patients ignored, left unfed, dehydrated, discharged with inadequate pain medication - the list is chilling. One woman was left unbathed for 13 weeks, while another woman’s husband was abandoned in a waiting room while his wife died alone elsewhere in the hospital.
Looking after older people is complex - they are often highly dependent and many have multiple conditions. But the report says there are 1.7 million more people aged over 65 in the UK than 25 years ago, and the number of people over 85 has doubled in that same period. By 2034, 23% of the population is projected to be over 65. So the NHS must get better at looking after these patients.
Having worked in a busy ward of older patients in the 1980s, Graham Pink knows how hard it is to manage a busy ward. He admitted in his manuscript (it is yet to find a publisher) A Time to Speak that he was forced to make difficult choices because he had no time to deliver the most fundamental care. He once told a patient to soil the bed because he could not bring her a commode for 10 minutes because he was helping another patient. He felt so strongly he spoke out - and lost his job as a result.
His account is far from “poor me” in tone, but as a reader you can’t help feeling sorry for both patients and nurse in such an appalling situation.
Some nurses are neglectful. And we should not excuse their behaviour. But I truly believe they are few and far between. Many are like Graham. They do not go to work to do a bad job. They chose this career to help people. The NHS needs the resources to allow them to provide the care older people deserve.
Next week, we’re running a special four-page focus on lessons we can learn from the ombudsman’s report.