13 Oct 2011

One in five hospitals failing elderly patients

As a report finds one-fifth of NHS hospitals are falling below legally required levels of care, one of the trusts criticised concedes that the quality of nursing care across the country is variable.

At Alexandra Hospital in Worcestershire, and Sandwell General Hospital, West Bromwich, inspectors had major concerns, especially about the way patients were fed and given drinks.

The chief executive of the Sandwell General Hospital NHS Trust John Adler told Channel 4 News that although the circumstances inspectors found on the day of their visit were exceptional, improvements have been made and acknowledged, but changes the trust is making are ongoing.

“The Care Quality Commission said this morning they have reduced the concerns they had initially from major to minor. They have said they still have moderate concerns on the question of patients’ privacy and dignity, however.”

Of the 100 hospitals investigated in England, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found that 40 do not offer dignified care to elderly patients. Inspectors at one hospital witnessed one incontinent patient asking for help but being left unwashed.

Two trusts given prior warnings were still leaving patients without intravenous fluids. In some hospitals, bedpans were placed next to areas where food was served, when inspectors carried out random hospital checks.

In 28 hospitals, the CQC had minor concerns about the dignity and respect shown to patients and moderate concerns about 12 hospitals.

The CQC identified several key factors that led to hospitals failing their patients. These included leadership on various wards, staff attitudes and funding.

Care is not a ‘task’

Dame Jo Williams, chair of the CQC, said: “Too often, our inspectors saw the delivery of care treated as a task that needed to be completed.

“Task-focused care is not person-centred care. Often, what is needed is kindness and compassion, which cost nothing,” she added.

“Those responsible for the training and development of staff, particularly in nursing, need to look long and hard at why the focus has become the unit of work, rather than the person who needs to be looked after – and how this can be changed.”

One in five hospitals failing elderly patients. (Getty)


The commission’s report on Sandwell General Hospital cited major concerns over its ability to meet patients’ nutritional needs which is an aspect of elderly hospital care of concern to the charity Age UK.

Responding to the report as a whole, Age UK said the fact there were problems was not a surprise but it was surprised and shocked by the extent of those problems including those around food and nutrition for the elderly in hospital.

Senior Campaigns Officer Mary Milne told Channel 4 News: “We have been running our ‘Hungry to be heard’ campaign for five years now and we are concerned by the findings on the issues with eating and malnutrition.

“We want the government to ensure that hospitals publish malnutrition data. If there was a requirement to publish data then staff would be more likely to ensure this information is recorded.”

Ms Milne did stress that despite the more shocking findings, there were some encouraging things to be taken from the report: “It’s important to realise that it identified plenty of good practice, for example the use of red-trays at mealtimes to identify patients who have eating problems.”