January 12, 2010
UK: Michael Parkinson says care of elderly 'downright unacceptable'
. LONDON, England / The Guardian / Society Older People / January 12, 2010 Former talk show host condemns standards in hospitals and care homes in his role as government's dignity ambassador By Rachel Williams Older people in hospitals and care homes are being left without enough food and drink in incidents that are "absolutely barmy and cruel beyond belief", Sir Michael Parkinson says today in a report on his work as the government's "dignity ambassador". Michael Parkinson described the places he had visited as 'hopeless and depressing'. Photograph: Richard Saker The former talk show host, who also speaks out about his mother's care in her final years suffering from dementia, described some homes he had seen as "little more than waiting rooms for death" and said he had been appalled by letters members of the public had sent him. Detailing incidents he called "inexcusable and downright unacceptable", he told how one woman had written to him saying her mother had been left naked, covered in urine and in full view in a side room at a hospital, while others had complained of patients' use of alarm bells being ignored for so long that they soiled themselves. "I've been sent letters about older people being left without enough to eat and drink, food being taken away before they have had a chance to eat it, food being left at the end of the bed on a tray where they cannot reach it, food they cannot swallow or the reverse, a sloppy, unappetising blob on a plate," wrote Parkinson, who was appointed by the government in 2008 to promote dignity in care. "It defies all logic to spend vast sums of money to keep people in hospital or a care home, to give them expensive drugs and then to forget to ensure they get the most basic of human needs." people's human rights, he added. Parkinson, who described some of the places he has visited in the last year as "hopeless and depressing", said he had been concerned by the care his mother had received in her nineties, which, while not deliberately cruel or neglectful, showed a lack of respect and robbed her of her dignity. Sometimes he and his wife visited to find her dressed in another woman's clothes, and on one occasion garishly made up "like Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?". "She looked like a clown, a figure of fun," he wrote. His mother was addressed in a loud voice when her hearing was perfect, and frequently patted on the head and called "ducky", "dear" and "love" when normally, he observed, she would have broken the arm of anyone who talked to her in that way. "Most of her care was fine, but these incidents showed a lack of respect and denied her the dignity that she, and others, deserve," he said. "In other words, she was being treated as if she was decrepit. I think that is the thing we really need to address, the fact that we treat old people as unworthy of our time and consideration. "If we treated young people the way we treat older people there would be an outcry." He called for an end to stereotypes of older people, and for health and care staff to take small, cost-free steps to make sure patients and residents were treated with dignity, such as not calling them by inappropriate and unwelcome pet names, maintaining their appearance and ensuring they had their own clothes. The mountains of letters he received told him such lapses were not uncommon, he said. He also criticised the "sometimes casual, vague and unfeeling responses" the organisations concerned gave to those who made a complaint. "It's the language of delay, the sense of a complaint sinking without trace in a bureaucratic quagmire, the suspicion of a cover-up that really upsets people," he said. Parkinson said staff and managers blamed bureaucracy for stopping them delivering more dignified care, saying common sense seemed to be missing in the way targets were implemented. The health secretary, Andy Burnham, said: "Sir Michael's report is an invaluable insight into the experiences of people who rely on support and those who dedicate their lives to helping others. "Dignity must be at the heart of care. To achieve this we are transforming the care and support system to make it fairer, simpler and more affordable for everyone." [rc] © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010