Thursday, 26 May 2011

Hospitals should face criminal neglect charges when they fail elderly patients

It was deeply troubling to find that my local hospital London’s Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust was judged to have failed to meet basic legal standards of dignity and nutrition for elderly patients.
The Care Quality Commission – part of whose remit is to oversee such matters – today published 12 reports as the first tranche of “an inspection programme which examines whether elderly people receive essential standards of care in 100 NHS hospitals throughout England.”
Half raised concerns – and three Worcestershire Acute Hospitals, The Ipswich Hospital, and the Royal Free could face enforcement action by the regulator if they don’t quickly improve.
Looking at the reports into the three named and shamed hospitals, I would say the Royal Free is the least culpable of the trio in its poor treatment of elderly patients.
At the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, Worcestershire, inspectors found doctors prescribing drinking water to ensure nurses remembered to give elderly patients enough fluids.
The report underlines the damning conclusion of investigations into 10 individual complaints made by relatives of the old in hospital undertaken by Ann Abraham, the Health Service Ombudsman, which was published in February.
Listening to the horror stories on radio phone-ins this morning from around the country prompted by the latest evidence, I can only think there has been a shocking decline in nursing principles.
Delays in answering patients’ buzzers might well be a product of understaffing; this is the Royal College of Nursing's standard excuse.
But leaving drinks beyond the reach of infirm patients, not ensuring their food was edible and eaten, talking to them in a dismissive manner and not keeping charts up-to-date suggests a deep malaise.
As for those cases (not in the CQC report) where the elderly are left in their own mess and develop terrible bed sores, doctors must be complicit in the neglect. Why are they too afraid to kick up a fuss? Charges of criminal neglect should be brought against hospital managements too incompetent to know what’s happening on their wards.
None of this is relevant to the debate over the re-shaping of the NHS. The issue is about the human rights of the elderly.


  1. There is currently about £2.6 billion legislation pending against the NHS. Once a friend and I were knocking the Royal Free to another friend, who was extolling how well his girlfriend's dad had been treated in there. So my original friend said, "But he died, in there!"
    I was in there myself the other day, visiting my stroke victim neighbour. That dept seems to be clean and fairly well run. There was a 25 year old lad in there. He had a fair amount of damage. Food is OK. Nevertheless my 78 yr old neighbour has lost 5 kilos in three weeks there.

  2. Meanwhile the Royal Free is currently owed/outstandig about £5 million by overseas and private patients. Each ward costs about £8 million a year to run. Royal Free debt is about £17 million and NH funding increases will only be about 0.1% above inflation over the next 4/5 years. so who would you put in prison for 'criminal damage'?

  3. I'd leave that decision to the CQC using its powers under "the criminal and/or civil procedures in the Health and Adult Social Care Act 2008 and relevant regulations."


What do you think? GC