The U.K.’s ‘National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death’ is a charity and a company limited by guarantee. It sounds a formidable body, but has a restrictive and important brief. Their recent report fully justifies their existence and the value of their research. Over a three-month period in 2008, medical specialists investigated the deaths of patients aged over 80 in hospitals within 30 days of surgery. They concluded that only a third of elderly patients who get admitted to British hospitals for an operation, get good care, with their specific needs insufficiently understood by doctors. Elderly people, who have been living at home, are often admitted after falling and fracturing a hip. After surgery they swiftly go downhill, and many die in hospital.

The report found that that most of such patients were admitted as emergencies by very junior doctors without timely input by senior clinicians experienced in the care of the elderly. ‘There is a long way to go to ensure good practice and appropriate care’ says Ian Martin, one of the report’s authors, lamenting that previous advice from NCEPOD in 1999 and 2001 had been ignored.

Dr Kathy Wilkinson, another member of the group, says that pain is not being monitored, let alone addressed and controlled and the survey had revealed organisational failures to respond to the suffering of elderly patients.

‘This report’, says a representative of Age U.K., ‘is a stark reminder that far too often older people in the U.K. receive second or even third-rate care in hospital, condemning many of them to an early death. Our healthcare system is failing to meet the needs of an ageing population and this situation is only set to deteriorate further as life expectancy continues to increase.’ Responding to the report, Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association says ‘It is unbelievable that any acute hospital can be in the business of caring for any patient without an acute pain service…and without the correct specialist team’.

Jo Webber of the N.H.S .Confederation said care of the elderly was complex, but ‘there is absolutely no excuse for poor care regardless of the age of the person involved.’ The government’s care services minister, Paul Barstow, has said that the study ‘paints a disturbing and unacceptable picture of the quality of care experienced by older people’. He blamed it on the previous government.

…hopefully he has a more practical solution to this major scandal than merely indulging in the blame game.


* thanks to the Guardian and the B.B.C. for this information. The full report is available on the web.