As CQC yet again bring to government and wider societies attention the poor levels of care some older people experience, one wonders will we ever get to grips with this issue?
The latest report suggests cuts to social care, mental health and public health mean “the NHS is being stretched to the limit,” said Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals. “Relying on political rhetoric that promises to protect the NHS but fails to acknowledge that a cut in social care results in a cost to the NHS, is an economic deception.”
Arguably, the discussion needs to go beyond financial issues to consider the greater deception of successive governments who have consistently ignored their failure to develop an ethically sustainable approach to the care and support of older people.
Let’s be honest, growing old in the UK is not for the faint hearted when we consider research and inquiries over the last decade.
In 2007 The Joint Committee on Human Rights suggested 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 in 2010 concluded inadequate hospital care for older people condemned many to death. The Health Service Ombudsman review of complaints, in 2011, suggested 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. Sadly the report suggested 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. Then in 2012 the Royal College of Surgeons found older people were discriminated against when being assessed for surgical treatment, with decisions being based on chronological age rather than clinical need, whilst Bingham suggested the treatment of older people in care was so bad that in many cases it met the legal definition of torture. The scandalous mistreatment of older people in Mid Staffordshire was exposed in the Francis Report in 2013, whilst in 2015 CQC reported on the continuing poor care older people received in care homes …. and so it goes on.
When we move away from hospital and residential settings things are often not much better with Action on Elder Abuse consistently highlighting the prevalence of abuse older people experience in the community, leading in 2016 to the publishing of a ‘dossier of shame’ which outlines how crimes against older people frequently go unpunished.
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 all 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, rather than financial, foundation founded on a clear understanding of, and agreement to, promote older peoples equality and human rights across the political divide.