How we care for older, vulnerable people is a big question for both the NHS and Social Care. Are we doing enough? Are we doing the very best that we can? Or are we neglecting people and exposing people to dangerous risks?
Are we causing vulnerable people harm? These are serious questions and very serious concerns.
We see far too many cases in which older people are exposed to harm in Hospitals and Care Home settings. It is unacceptable. More often than not, these are elderly, vulnerable people who have strong families and support networks who have been able to raise the alarm and been strong enough to ask questions.
But what happens to all those vulnerable people who don’t have family and who may not have someone close to look out for them? These are our Grandparents, our Parents and one day, will be us and our friends. People who have raised families, who have lived rich and fulfilling lives, filled with interest, travel and adventure. Nobody wants to become reliant on care, to go to hospital, to be too physically weak to return to your own home and then, to be simply labelled a ‘bed blocker’, through absolutely no fault of your own.
Elderly people deserve the very best care we can provide, but it’s just not happening consistently.
What kind of issues affect elderly people in Hospital and Care Home settings – when should the alarm bells be ringing?
The list here could be endless, but below are some of the examples we see time and time again. If you have any concerns in relation to any of the below – raise them, ask questions and if necessary, seek further advice or a second opinion.
- Pressure Sores – most elderly people are at high risk of pressure wounds & these should not occur. Preventative measures must be put in place. When they do occur, treatment should be led by a specialist Tissue Viability Expert.
- Dehydration & Malnourishment – we often receive concerns from families that a loved one is suffering from dehydration & malnourishment, despite supposedly receiving 24H care. This can make people more vulnerable & affect wound healing • Falls – a lot of elderly people are at risk of falling & should receive support & help to stop this occurring in Hospitals & Care Homes
- Confusion / Memory Loss / Delirium – often elderly people’s concerns are not treated seriously & they are simply ‘passed off’ as suffering from dementia, when actually this is not true & confusion is caused by something much more serious, such as Sepsis & serious infection
- Lack of clinical care – when elderly patients present at hospital, we have seen cases where they simply have not been examined or investigated and have been put on a ward, receiving no clinical care whatsoever, until their condition has deteriorated significantly, and in one appalling case, requiring amputation.
- Lack of adequate pain relief – this can be excruciating, especially when someone suffers from a terrible injury such as a pressure sore. It can be so bad that the pain stops people from being able to eat, sleep & communicate• Lack of communication & support – for example, elderly people with hearing difficulties being denied their hearing aids
The Current Position
The patient care scandals of Mid Staffordshire and South Wales were horrendous, but these problems have sadly not gone away. NHS Trusts still do not respond properly and fully to the Duty of Candour, if they even respond at all. Formal Complaint Responses often only tell half the story and it is rare, if ever, that an NHS Trust will turn around and hold their hands up, or willingly apologise. When an elderly person has passed away as a result of poor care, NHS Trusts have been known to charge as much as £500 for that patient’s medical records – a cost that would stop most people from being financially able to investigate care, without the help of solicitors. Regardless of the failures in how NHS Trusts respond, any response comes too late, after harm has already been caused. We should not be in this position in the first place. These failures in care should not occur.
The system currently relies on families and patients raising the alarm themselves. Which again, raises serious concerns for all those people who aren’t lucky enough to have close family and friends.
We cannot change the system alone. But we can help people ask questions, help people make a formal Complaint and if necessary, help make individuals and organisations accountable. It is a very small role to play, but every little bit can make a difference to recognised practices. Our clients and families have paid a very high price to see small changes come about in the NHS, which in turn may save someone else from the same fate in the future.
We encourage everyone to ask questions and raise your hand if you have concerns about a relative or a loved one. If you know someone elderly who is receiving care and they seem scared, worried, in pain or are simply not being listened to, trust them and raise your concerns and make sure they are getting the care they need and ensure that they are properly reviewed by a Senior Doctor.
We’re thankful to every one of our clients and their families, who have had the strength to stick to their guns and trust their instincts, to raise a Complaint and then been strong enough to follow that through with the legal process. It is a long road, but we hope, one that has made a difference for other people in the future.