How can we ensure good quality of care as we get old?

How can we ensure good quality of care as we get old?

By Liz Lockhart

They say ‘old age never comes alone’.   I never really understood what that saying meant but as I get older I understand it more.  If we are lucky we will get the odd grey hair and wrinkle along the way and perhaps be less able to do the heavy physical jobs that we once could do without a thought.   The sad fact is that for many, along with old age comes physical and mental decline which can lead to the necessity of being cared for.  We don’t want to think about it and most of us don’t plan for it, but, in a time when we are all expected to live longer, it really is time that we did give it due consideration.

Current television programmes seem to be giving the subject a good deal of coverage at the moment.  Two particular programmes have covered the dilemma of being cared for in old age with great sensitivity.  Emmerdale has covered the plight of Sandy who is being abused by his own son, Ashley, as he struggles to care for his elderly father at home.  Ashley’s behaviour is abhorrent and unacceptable but what of those who choose to place their elderly relatives into a care home environment? How can they ensure their loved ones are treated correctly?

Panorama has just broadcast the most alarming film footage of a woman who has Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis and her loving daughter decides that it is time for her to go into a care facility.  Jane has looked after Maria for two years.  Maria was once a strong, loving, independent and beautiful woman who was a wonderful parent and grandparent.  As her condition worsens to the point where she falls down regularly and can’t get out of bed, Jane looks at what suitable residential care is available for her mother. 

After reading the Quality Care Commission’s (QCC) report on Ash Court in North London, Jane decides that the excellent rating makes it the place of her choice.  She starts to become worried about the ‘care’ that her mother is receiving in Ash Court and notices bruising on her mother’s arms.  When Jane raised her concerns with the management of the home she was told that Maria bruised easily because she took aspirin and that these ‘fingerprint’ bruises were nothing to worry about.

Jane’s worries would not go away and so she decided to buy a mini-camera which she hid in her mother’s room.  What she filmed was a dreadful shock to her and the footage made me weep.  The camera filmed as Maria was thrown into bed at 5.30 pm.  She was required to be lifted by a mechanical hoist but there was no sign of one.  Two female nurses handled her like a slab of meat as she cried out in pain.  As they pulled her into bed she was yanked around by her wrists, arms and legs which were sore from her arthritis.  At no time did the nurses speak to her.

Two hours later, two carers came in to wash Maria.  They did not greet her or speak to her at any time.  They put the television on so that they could watch it whilst they worked and turned it off when they left.  Maria was left alone with nothing to do or watch for 13 hours until the same two members of staff came back to get her up.  They rip the sheets from over her as she tries to cover herself up and roughly push her arms away.  Both staff members were Filipinos and they spoke to each other in their own language, moaning about low pay and staff shortages.  Maria appeared to be utterly bewildered by what was going on.

One of the carers then proceeded to feed Maria.  She had porridge and scrambled eggs on a tray.  The carer alternates a spoonful of porridge with a spoonful of egg.  She feeds her so fast, a spoonful every 13 seconds, that Maria appears to begin to choke.  There was no joy, no tenderness and no empathy.  Maria cannot talk, write or walk – she has no way of complaining or changing this appalling treatment.

When Jane took the footage home and looked at it, she was so shocked by what she saw that she decided to do another night of filming to confirm her fears.  On this second night even more disturbing footage was to be captured.  A male carer called Jonathon enters Maria’s room alone and proceeds to give her a bed bath.  It had been specifically requested that she was not to be washed by a male nurse.  Jonathon pushes her around the bed as he moves her to wash her and as he does he slaps her repeatedly and mocks her as she cries out in pain, imitating her groans and sneering. Jonathon is also from the Fillipines.  Once he has finished be stands at the head of Maria’s bed and yanks her up onto her pillows then slaps her round the head as if for good measure.  In all he slapped Maria six times.  He leaves the room whilst she is still crying out in pain.

On seeing this new footage, Jane went straight to the home and showed the management the footage.  She felt sure that this abusive treatment would then stop.  Five members of staff were suspended and Jonathon was arrested.  The police and social services looked into the matter but one month later the home wrote to Jane to say it was time to move forward positively.  Four of the staff who had been suspended were re-instated and continued to work at the home.

What we should be asking is why did Jane have to take such drastic measures to find out what was happening to her mother?  Why didn’t the care home realise what was happening?  At the very least they could plainly see that there was no hoist in place for Maria.

Finally, after Jane kicked up a rumpus with Forest Healthcare – the home management – the four workers were sacked.  They say that all their staff are committed to good care.  Jonathon pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to 18 months in prison and may be deported on release.

What about the QCC’s recommendations after they received all this information and footage?  They say that Ash Court upholds a good standard of care and are totally compliant with requirements.  Their report does not make any mention of Maria’s treatment or that staff members have been charged with assault.  They commented ‘We will always act quickly when we receive information about poor practice or abuse.’

The good news is that Maria is now in a new home where she is much happier and she certainly looked like a new person.  She is now treated with respect and dignity, her hair is done and she is clean and smiling.

The worry now is how often does this kind of abuse take place elsewhere in the country?  Could Maria just be an isolated case or is she one of many?  It only took two nights of filming to reveal a string of negligent and abusive situations.  Surely we all deserve better when we reach our twilight years, the question is how can we ensure better?

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