Monthly Archives: March 2013

Ageing in the UK is not for the faint hearted…..government needs to think long term and forget about party politics

Successive governments have sought to avoid addressing the issue of an ageing population in the UK.  It is not surprising then that research suggests older people’s experience of ageing in the UK falls behind that of many of it’s European counterparts (WRVS,2012).

Growing old in the UK is not for the faint hearted when we consider research and inquiries over the last few years.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights (2007) inquiry into breaches of older peoples human rights in the UK suggests older people in hospital and residential care routinely receive inhumane and degrading treatment, whilst an analysis of outcomes for patients commissioned by the Royal Medical Colleges concluded inadequate hospital care for older people condemns many to death.  The Health Service Ombudsman review of complaints pertaining to the care of older patients in hospital suggests the National Health Service (NHS) is inflicting pain and suffering on patients, citing examples of older patients leaving hospital with numerous physical injuries, mentally confused, soaked in urine wearing other people’s clothes held together with paper clips (2011).  Sadly the report suggests the individuals discussed are ‘not exceptional or isolated cases’ and clearly indicates the attitude of staff was indifferent to those older people for whom they were supposed to care.    More recently research from the Royal College of Surgeons (2012) found older people were discriminated against when being assessed for surgical treatment, with decisions being based on chronological age rather than clinical need. Bingham (2012) suggests the treatment of older people in care is now so bad that in many cases it meets the legal definition of torture.  However, such treatment appears to extend beyond the confines of hospital and residential settings and into the community (Action on Elder Abuse,2007).   The consequences of this are highlighted in research focused on older people’s understanding of Elder Abuse in Ireland entitled, ‘A Total Indifference to our Dignity’  which identified societal attitudes toward older people as having a negative impact on older individuals with the transition of an older person to a non-person,  described as “Personhood Abuse” (Age Action Ireland,2011, p.46)

Understanding of the nature of abuse and maltreatment older people might experience now parallels that of child abuse.  Referrals regarding abuse received by two adult social service departments suggests in England ‘Older people dominate the abuse landscape’ (Mansell et al, 2009).  Experimental statistics regarding the abuse of vulnerable adults from the NHS Information Centre support this finding, where 61% of referrals were for older adults aged 65 and over (2012).

From a European perspective research findings suggest older people’s experience of ageing in the UK falls behind that of many of its European counterparts, with the UK performing most poorly on indicators such as income, poverty and age discrimination (WRVS,2012).  The report states “the UK faces multiple challenges in providing older people with a positive experience of ageing, scoring poorly (although not always the worst) across every theme of the matrix” (WRVS, 2012, p.8).

 This provides a troubling vision of older people’s experience of ageing in the UK.

Older people’s experience of ageing in the UK can be improved, and it is all of our responsibility to try and achieve this.  However, we first need a coherent strategy to bring about the change desired by many who work with older people.  Government in the UK tend to address issues associated with an ageing population in individual ‘silos’.  Research from Europe suggests those countries taking a joined up approach where government consider how factors such as income, health, age discrimination and inclusion interact , the more successful policy approaches are likely to be to improve the experience of ageing.  However, any action needs first to take a long term approach and have a strong ethical foundation founded on a clear understanding of, and agreement to, promoting older peoples equality and human rights across the political divide.

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Compassion is the real victim of ‘austerity’ ………

The NHS does not stand independently of society, it is made up of society.  From the clinicians to its patients to those who run the hospital and those who develop the policies it follows.  Can we expect compassion to flow freely inside the ward walls if it is not part of everyday life outside of those walls?

Jeremy Hunt  talking about events at Mid Staffs hospital suggests ‘the weeds of failure grow more quickly in a garden of mediocrity’, hmm…..I wonder if we might say the same of the coalition?

A more mediocre government is hard to imagine, desperately dressing up their well worn mantra of “public sector bad, private sector good” as a brave new world where health care will be transformed by further privatisation.  Of course we have seen extensive privatisation in the health and social care sector already,  however, it is debateable whether this had raised standards. It certainly did not at Winterbourne View or Hillcroft Nursing home or for those older people who receive care in their own homes from private domiciliary care agencies, with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission suggesting the care of older people in their own homes is so poor it breaches their human rights.  Yet we are told by this government time after time the only way forward is the introduction of free market mechanisms in our health and social care system.  From my personal and professional experience all this has done is fragment the ‘market’ to such an extent that abuses now go unseen as meaningful regulation is impossible.

However, worse still is the governments’ inability to understand the problem is much more complex and deeper rooted than a simple dichotomy of public sector bad, private sector good.  It goes to the very heart of society and what we believe in, what we value.

Following the Francis Report there has been much talk of the role of leadership in the NHS, rightly so, however, the government appear either unaware or even indifferent to their role as leaders in society.  Leaders determine a culture within an organisation, the same could be argued of a country.  Currently this government is busy ensuring the nation turns inward on its self, with one group blaming another for all manner of ills.  Compassion has been the real victim of ‘austerity’.  Why? Just consider how the failure of an under-regulated financial sector has been transformed into a ‘witch hunt’ against anyone in receipt of ‘welfare’. So the government develop policy based on a stereotype of the most marginalised to address the problems caused by those most powerful.  Society is losing its compassion for others, seemingly too ready to believe government rhetoric of a world where everyone is either a’ skiver or a striver’.

The NHS does not stand independently of society, it is made up of society.  From the clinicians to its patients to those who run the hospital and those who develop the policies it follows.  Can we expect compassion to flow freely inside the ward walls if it is not part of everyday life outside of those walls?

 

After 32 years the search for my birth mother is over……..

After searching for my birth mother for 32 years I hear the words I thought I would never hear….

The phone rings, it’s the intermediary from Long Lost Families. She begins “there is good news and bad news”, okay………

My mother is alive and has been found.

However, I was wise to be reticent about happy endings, she does not want to meet me.

My reticence does nothing to ease the absolute desolation I feel as I repeat the words over in my mind.  I am silent. The intermediary continues.  “Your mother has recently been diagnosed with cancer and does not feel able to handle revisiting the past, her letter is very definite, she does not wish to have any contact”.  The intermediary is pretty sure my mother will  not change her mind, so am I.

After a lifetime of searching for my mother this is the scenario I feared most.

I am in shock, trying to respond,  fumbling for words, pretending its alright, I’m not bothered, I fully understand.  I ask the intermediary can she tell me the name of the area where my mother lives, yes , they are happy to do this (I know I can probably find her address via certain people tracing websites).  I ask for copies of the letters, hers included, and these are e-mailed to me, it is a great thrill to see my mothers handwriting for the first time, she clearly has a way with the written word.

Next I ask, will they forward a letter from me to my mother?  Yes.

As soon as I put the phone down the laptop is up and running, and hey presto within 5 minutes I have her address, now what?  She is about 6 hours drive away, it’s 4pm. Google Earth. There, her home, her street, her front room window, her bedroom, her garden.

I have lost my mind at this point.  I am frantically zooming into the windows of her home trying to get a glimpse of her. Maybe she is stood at the kitchen sink washing up looking out of the window, or maybe she has a photo of herself on the fireplace, or on the dressing table? I ring my partner and friends, I text a friend in Australia.  All say the same thing “do not get in the car and drive there”.

How did they know I was planning that?

Continuing into the evening on Google Earth, searching, searching, searching for a glimpse of her. My partner is watching me, concerned about me.  Then I burst into tears.  What am I doing stalking my mother on Google Earth!  This is not helping.  I turn the laptop off, I must stop, it is doing me no good at all, I feel helpless and pathetic.  But most of all I feel rejected, just like I did as a child.

In that moment I am 7 years old again living in a family that I am not part of.  It is obvious to me there is something wrong, I am treated differently than my sisters. The only way my 7 year old brain can make sense of this is to blame myself, there is clearly something wrong with me, I’m not sure what, but I know it’s my fault.

But I am no longer a child struggling to understand why I am being rejected, trying to work out what I have done wrong.  The past is not my present, nor my fault, so I begin the process of mourning.

How you can mourn the loss of someone you have not met, and is not yet dead (as far as I know) has been a revelation to me, not so much that you can, but the intensity of feelings; shock, anger, guilt, self-pity.

There was a sentence in my mothers letter to the intermediary that particularly upset me.  She wrote “bringing back such unhappy memories is something I could  not contemplate”.  The crashing realisation of how it must have been for her hits me. The fear and shame must have been overwhelming – there were no family celebrations when my birth was announced, no balloons or cards with ‘its a girl’ written on them in the hostel for fallen women!   And then there would have been the ultimate moment of sadness when ‘they’ came and took her 5 day old baby daughter, me,  away from her.  Was this all I was to her, an unhappy memory?

Rolling in the mire of my own self pity was brief, thankfully.

I felt/feel tremendous guilt for opening this part of her life back up to her.  My actions have opened old wounds for my mother, a past she has done her best to move on from, 3 marriages, the loss of 2 children, a diagnosis of cancer and a letter announcing my re-appearance, it is too much too late.  For the first time I truly see the selfishness of my actions, my need to know, my desire to find her.  Whilst everyone tells me I have a right to know, the question  for me is do I have the right to cause her pain and distress? The speed with which she replied to the intermediary leaves me wondering if her family know about her past, hopefully only she saw the letter.

Does she mourn the loss of our love never expressed as I do?  I believe she does.  Whilst it is doubtful we will ever meet,  we will always be alive to one another in the privacy of our own minds. I do not blame her for one moment for her decision, my biggest sadness is that she is facing cancer and I will not be there to support her. I have written to my mother again but to no avail.  I will not write anymore, here silence hurts.

The intermediary tells me my mothers response is not uncommon, with many women of her age keeping children like me a secret from their new partners/family, but making arrangements with solicitors so that after their death their new family will be told about the child from a previous relationship, and sometimes a letter is forwarded onto the child they gave up for adoption.  “You never know you may be one of them” is at least a positive note to end the call on.

Whilst, for now, this is the end of this part of the journey it is not all sad, there has been the unexpected joy of finding my sibling and family in New Zealand.   Meeting my sibling in particular has been a revelation.  Not only are we physically alike, but emotionally, psychologically, intellectually – it is scary to be honest, I have learnt more about myself by listening to them than any amount of therapy could achieve.  It has, and is, a great joy to me. Finding members of my biological/genetic family has given me a real sense of self,  a self confidence that no longer  asks ‘who am I?’, but boldly states this is who I am.

There is more to come yet, as I investigate the ‘India connection’ and my mothers anglo indian heritage.  We plan to visit my grandfathers grave in Kotagiri and his last known address, in case we still have family living there.

Finally

Thank you for indulging me and reading the adoption file blogs.  All of this has been such a hidden part of my life, starting with my adoptive families decision to keep everything secret.  This was done with the best of intentions but in truth was not only destructive to me but the whole of the family.  It over shadowed everyone’s lives, and to be honest of us all I have been the one to escape least damaged.  For me writing this, and knowing others have read it, has brought my mother to life, she exists, she is not a shameful secret any longer. This matters to me.

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My letter to my mother, I thought for a long time how I should sign it and decided to use the name she gave me.

The ‘Adoption File’ blogs are now available as a  short Apple ibook (it’s free by the way). The ibook is just long enough to enjoy with a coffee and a kitkat! It contains more photos and details, and any latest developments. It can be found in the ibook store, just type The Adoption File in the search bar,happy reading it really is a story of hope!