‘We must improve caring for elderly’

HOSPITAL chiefs have admitted standards can slip in caring for the elderly after shocking revelations in a government report.

Darren Grayson, chief executive of the trust which runs Eastbourne District General Hospital, wrote to staff last week, urging constant vigilance and high standards after an investigation described how elderly patients in hospitals across the country were left hungry, thirsty, unwashed in soiled clothes and without sufficient pain relief.

The East Sussex Hospitals Trust was not among the 10 trusts which were named and shamed in the health service ombudsman’s report.

But ombudsman Ann Abraham said her office had received around 1,620 complaints about the treatment of the elderly nationwide.

In his letter, chief executive Darren Grayson said, “Compassionate care requires vigilance. I know you come to work every day to do a good job and no-one sets out to provide poor care.

“But it can happen, most often when people are under pressure, distracted by competing demands which can lead them to take their eyes off the basics.

“I read and sign off every single complaint letter and there are aspects of caring for the elderly that we need to improve.”

Chief nurse Jane Hentley said the trust, which also operates the Conquest Hospital in Hastings, is already finding ways to improve treatment.

For example the two hospitals devote an hour to meal times – keeping treatment to a minimum so patients are fed and watered.

She told the Herald, “I think there are always going to be times when we don’t perhaps do things to the same level or standard, but we have done a lot of work and we’ve tried to make sure we minimise those incidents.

“It would be wrong of me to say we don’t have complaints about care, because we do.

“But we do have a good system in place to rectify those quickly.”

The trust is recovering from a slump in performance in responding to complaints - in October fewer than 30 per cent of complaints were dealt with inside 30 days. In December the figure rose to just below 50 per cent.

Ms Hentley said the complaints procedure would improve once the trust has undergone its merger with East Sussex Community Health Services in April.

Stephen Lloyd MP said, “I was very concerned to read the report into the NHS provision for elderly patient care from the health services ombudsman.

“It’s particularly disappointing after so much investment has gone into the health service over the last 10 years that such appalling gaps still remain in the way older people are sometimes treated in our hospitals.

“I have written to the chief executive of our own DGH immediately, to seek reassurance that elderly patients are treated properly and with compassion.”