I spent the morning today sitting in a Train Crew Messroom in Brighton, dividing my time between staring aimlessly out of the window, watching the snowflakes meander earthward from the dull sky and settling on the expansive glass panes in the grand victorian roof of the railway station, and the meterological hysteria, political maneuvers, and idle gossip of todays newspapers.
I spied a very interesting article in the Guardian about the work of Sir Michael Parkinson, who has spent the last year working for the government, looking at the standard of care received by elderly patients.
Sir Michael's interest in this area was piqued by the poor treatment that his mother received in her final years as she suffered with dementia.
Today, Sir Michael released a report that he has been preparing on this issue, and I have to say that it does not make very encouraging, or indeed very surprising reading.
Over the last year, Sir Michael has seen and received evidence and written accounts of poor treatment, patients not being fed, poor quality food, elderly men and women being left to lie in their own mess, denegrating treatment at the hands of carers, and much worse.
He says that when his own mother was in residential care, she was dressed in other people's clothes, used as a figure of fun and disrespected routinely.
In the past, I have worked as a carer, and a Nursing Assistant in the private sector, and in the NHS.
My own experiences completely back up everything that this report says....
I have witnessed elderly and frail patients being mishandled during lifting, causing abrasions to their necks and arms, I have seen staff shout at demanding residents and patients, and I have also encountered patients sitting on commodes for so long that they suffered pressure sores on their bottoms, as well as patients who have messed their bed, through no fault of their own, and who have asked for help, only to be left to develop skin infections, sores, and secondary illnesses as a result of being forced to lie in urine and excrement for hours, in some cases...
Health & Social Care is by no means an easy career, and is by no means for everybody. It is a very, very hard job, constantly demanding, both physically and emotionally. The pay is nothing short of woeful, and this may in itself go some way to explain the poor training, performance and monitoring within many care homes and hospitals...
Whilst it is certainly true that there are many care homes that work to exemplary standards, many others are no more than 'death farms' whereby elderly people are placed in them and essentially left to die. There are a number of care home operators and owners who are so eager to wring every last possible drop of profit from the misery that is the life of many of their residents, that they will not allow anything to get in the way of the financial returns to be had, including a resident's dignity....
In the NHS there seems to be an unspoken policy that equates to an age limit in terms of healthcare resourcing. I have spoken to a 72 year old man who has a muscular shoulder injury who has been sent home with painkillers, despite being debilitated with pain for large portions of the day. If he were 30 years younger, he would have had an operation by now, and would be free to continue living in comfort. Instead he is condemned to a future of pain, immobility, and full and explicit knowledge of the fact that he is well and truly on the healthcare scrapheap..
A friend of mine's mother is still awaiting supposed 'urgent' treatment for aggressive cancer, yet still she waits, knowing that with the passage of time, her condition worsens. She has been waiting a week or so for an x-ray on a potential broken arm...yet again, she is forgotten and disrespected..
Another friend of mine had to literally fight tooth and nail to secure residential nursing care for his mother after she was diagnosed with progressive dementia, only for her to be abused physically by staff, and to add insult to injury, the response of the care home owners was to try and hush the whole episode up..
The list of examples is so long that it could never encompass all of what has been done so badly in our healthcare industries, yet still relatives and loved ones are expected to assume the role of advocates and auditors of the care that patients receive, when what they should be doing is treasuring the time that they have left with these people, safe in the knowledge that they are safe when the visitor's room door closes...
So why is that we are so dismissive of our older citizens..?
Why do we carry the unofficial perception that their needs are somehow less important than those of people who were born decades later..?
In my own opinion, I believe that senior citizens are victims of the 'here and now' action driven disposable commodity culture that underpins much of society..
These people are a reminder of a different time, when things generally took longer to make, to buy, to receive, and to give, and in modern society that is seen as irrelevant..
We see something, we want it now..We buy something, we want to take it with us..We send something, we want it there yesterday..
These are all traits of an image and materialistically obsessed society that projects disdain upon the older generation, because we do not like the idea of growing old, and they remind us, simply by way of their presence, that the lucky ones among us will do just that...
I think that you only really start to treasure and appreciate the worth of the older generation when you begin to get a little bit older yourself..
It amazes me to hear about the stories, experiences, and trials and tribulations of people who have lived through things that I will never see, nor in many cases would I want to..
These people are not a simply a reminder of mortality, they are a gateway to the past, to wisdom and experience that cannot be bought..nor can it be utilised once these people are gone...
Talk to any war veteran, and you will see in them all that is great about Britain. In the darkest hours of our history, these men and women stepped up to the plate, and sacrificed so that we didn't have to.
Talk to your parents and grandparents, and you will see that, for the most part, they spent large chunks of their time on this mortal coil working, and sacrificing so that we could have a better life than they could imagine at our age..
The eyes are the window to the soul some say, and the senior citizens amongst us are a window to history, and to a different world and culture..
Next time you are sitting on the bus or the train, look around for an elderly passenger, and try and imagine the things that they have seen and experienced; War, Famine, Disease, Triumph, History, Loss, Sadness, Joy, Death, Birth, the list goes on, and on and on...It is these very people who made our nation great, and they deserve our respect, understanding, and appreciation..
These are the very same people who are lying, urine soaked and bereft of dignity in our care homes and hospitals..these are the same people who are left to live in pain and discomfort, and these are the people who are forgotten, neglected, and left to die..
It doesn't cost an awful lot to improve the standard of elderly care in the UK. Simply acknowledging the existence of an elderly patient can make all the difference.
Investment in expensive equipment is unnecessary, when a world of change can be brought about by responding to calls for assistance, not treating patients and residents as if they are deaf, or as if they have a learning disability, making sure that residents are clean, presentable, and dressed in a dignified fashion, and giving the elderly the best possible chance of a long and fruitful life by ensuring that they are fed properly, with a nutritious diet..
These people are not commodities..they are funny, kind, engaging and captivating human beings that deserve to be treated as respectfully, and as mercifully as you and I..they should not be farmed in great houses for maximum profit, they should be stimulated, entertained, and above all recognised...
People should not have to wait a week for an x-ray, or months for urgent cancer treatment simply as a consequence of their date of birth, and the NHS is guilty of discrimination in continuing this grave disservice..
One of the founding principles of the NHS is the provision of care based on clinical need..this, along with the older generations, is something that makes our country great....
I fully intend to grow old one day..maybe fate will decree that I too will end up relying on residential and NHS care..if it does, I would hope for just a little respect, and a glimmer of recognition..it isn't alot to ask for, is it?