Watchdog slates ‘distressing’ standards of care for elderly

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary
Edinburgh Royal Infirmary
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SCOTLAND’S public services ombudsman has slammed standards of care for the elderly – saying health chiefs have failed to improve the service they offer over a six-year spell.

The powerful figure has called for more to be done to address the concerns of patients and their relatives after two key reports into the state of acute care for the 
elderly within NHS Lothian identified failings.

Jim Martin

Jim Martin

Jim Martin expressed concerns regarding the treatment of elderly patients across the country, while giving evidence to the Scottish Government’s Health and Sport Committee at Holyrood, and highlighted NHS Lothian to illustrate shortcomings he had identified.

He said that reviewing two highly-critical reports into care standards at NHS Lothian, which were published six years apart, did “not make pleasant reading”.

A Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) report examining elderly care at the Royal Infirmary, published in October, found 23 areas for improvement and just four areas of strength. It followed a report into the care of the elderly in 2006, headed by Scotland’s former chief nursing officer, Anne Jarvie, which highlighted concerns in many of the same areas, particularly around allowing patients appropriate levels of dignity while staying in wards.

Mr Martin said: “I feel strongly that if patients, friends and family were being listened to effectively, regulators should not be highlighting problems months and years after complaints have been made on the same points.”

Mr Martin said that he did not intend to single NHS Lothian out as having a particular problem and that evidence of failings could be found in HIS reports into elderly care at hospitals in other regions.

Since the October report, NHS Lothian has introduced a dedicated team to prepare staff to deal with dementia patients and their families, while work on a compassionate care programme for staff and nursing students is ongoing.

Giving evidence yesterday, Mr Martin told the committee his office saw “extremely distressing” cases of poor elderly care and the same issues came up time and time again.

He added: “We spend a lot of time talking about it.

“We need to think about what the hell we are going to do about it.

“The problem is going to get worse not better. There are going to be more and more elderly people with greater 
expectations. I remain concerned that we are continuing to fail to learn from experience.”

Melanie Hornett, the health board’s nurse director, said: “We were extremely disappointed in the findings of the Healthcare Improvement Scotland report for the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

“We recognise the need for improvement and agree that we need to be more explicit about our learning from patient feedback.”

Under scrutiny

During last year’s probe into standards at the ERI, inspectors were forced to step in after witnessing appalling examples of patient care.

One patient with a learning disability was left “uncovered and exposed” in a busy assessment area and ward staff were unaware that another patient had lost a stone-and-a-half in weight in a week.

Shortfalls in personal care were also found in the course of the 2006 inspection, which was initiated following a series of high-profile cases at the Royal Infirmary, including the death of the 89-year-old mother of former

Lord Provost Norman Irons.

Mr Irons claimed his mother, Anne, was killed by “basic neglect”.