Helen Martin: Our ‘caring’ society shortchanges elderly

Edinburgh should build a new hospital dedicated to care of the elderly. Picture: John Devlin
Edinburgh should build a new hospital dedicated to care of the elderly. Picture: John Devlin
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REGULAR readers will know I’m among the one in eight women who have had breast cancer this year – as have a few friends and colleagues. Medication lasts for years longer but generally speaking, I have the thumbs up.

All that’s left in terms of surgery is the final reconstruction which would have happened last week if I hadn’t had a bout of sinusitis. There’s every chance now that it won’t happen until next year because for the next few months, all hospitals and wards face the surge in winter illnesses and even death of the elderly.

My op may be rebooked, but risks being cancelled on the day with the bed more likely to be urgently needed by an older patient.

That’s fine by me. Cancer removal ops in the breast unit will go ahead. The follow up to a mastectomy, ­recreating an artificial boob to match the other side, is simply aesthetic. It’s not medically necessary. I might even decide not to bother.

A sick, elderly person is a much higher priority, especially as the number of such winter deaths in the Lothians is expected to soar again this year. But the need for beds for the elderly isn’t purely confined to winter. The care crisis, regularly covered by the Evening News, means many old people have to stay in hospital following illness, or “bed-block”, because lack of resources and funding means residential or sufficient home care can’t be delivered on time.

Old age brings multiple health problems, and with the national demographic of an ageing population (reaching 100 isn’t rare these days) we have more elderly hospitalisation needed all year round.

The Royal Victoria Hospital for the elderly was closed in 2012. It had 247 beds. The new Royal Victoria Building, now part of the Western General, has around 147 beds (plus day beds) and Liberton Hospital for the elderly which once had 170 beds, now has only 60. So, a 417 elderly bed count is now reduced to 207.

Such changes which happened bit by bit, over several years, may have been based on the preference – and dream – of a wonderfully funded, staffed and specialised social care at home service, something that never happened. Now we are struggling to afford and deliver even a basic version of home care.

The golden answer would be a new hospital for the elderly with geriatricians, nursing staff and care workers who are specialist in advanced age, dementia, moving and handling, ­elderly feeding and nutrition issues – knowledge that is often not present when an elderly patient has to be accommodated in wards which are generally not geriatric.

Any necessary specialist consultants and major ops, could be delivered in general hospitals but recovery and nursing of general conditions could all be based in the “new” development.

My “cosmetic” op being ­cancelled doesn’t matter at all. But some patients in constant pain, though not a life-threatening condition, will also have surgery cancelled because of the lack of elderly beds.

We got rid of trams, then restored them for more than £1billion. Surely, for everyone, it’s more important to restore hospitals for the elderly? Being unable in the past to predict the growing future needs and the impossible challenge of quality home and nursing care, reducing dedicated beds was a mistake.

No teacher should face this violence

NOT everyone, even experienced teachers, agrees with the reduction of specialist schools and having as many special needs pupils as possible in mainstream classes. Inclusion may be an idealist theory, but it doesn’t always work, either for those with behavioural difficulties, or the other children in the class.

Teachers know pupils at Kaimes special school in Liberton will be challenging. They want to help children with needs. But the City Council is being fiercely discriminating against 11 teachers by sending them home without pay because they refused to teach eight kids who repeatedly assault them, injure them and try to batter them with furniture. No other council employee is expected to put up with that. Yet the council says it’s the teachers who are discriminating against “disabled” pupils.

Idealism is often fanciful. The reality is that “disabled” doesn’t describe these kids, nor does the phrase “learning difficulties”. They are violent, dangerously disturbed, and need a special, special, psychiatric institution.

Being herded like cattle is not a holiday

MY only response to Edinburgh Airport’s rise in drop-off charges to £2 for five minutes up to £10 for 20 minutes is to try and avoid it.

I hate flying anywhere because of the intolerable rudeness and cattle herding treatment we all endure. The endless queues, the waiting for everything, from getting through security and getting off a plane, to reclaiming luggage.

I’d rather take a train or drive, or take a cruise holiday from a Scottish port than fly to the Med. But I hate, loathe and despise airports. They even put me off holidays and travel. Flying is hellish.

Sometimes a rant makes me feel better!

MP invades my personal space

LABOUR MP Anneliese Dodds complains that human flats have less floor space than requirements for chimpanzees. Chimps live in open jungles. All animals need space. Humans started in wee caves, holiday in caravans, and travel like sardines in trains, planes and buses. We’re compact cowards. She’s an eejit.