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British report finds state neglect of elderly

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By Catholic News Service

LONDON — A report exposing the widespread neglect of the elderly in Britain’s state-run hospitals reveals “something deeply wrong” with the country’s health service, said the bishops of England and Wales.

The report by the Care Quality Commission, the regulator of all health and adult social care in England, discovered a range of abuses of elderly patients, including the failure to ensure that patients were fed properly or that their privacy was respected.

The report was published Oct. 11 andwas based on random inspections in 100 National Health Service hospitals between March and June.

In an Oct. 18 statement issued on behalf of the bishops of England and Wales, Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark said the report “highlights not just failures in care, but something which is deeply wrong at the heart of our health and care services.”

“How we value the people we care for, and how we treat them, holds up a mirror to who we truly are as a society and as individuals,” said Archbishop Smith, chairman of the bishops’ Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship.

“It is essential to foster a culture of care which cherishes life from its beginning to its natural end, which recognizes the God-given dignity of the older person and sees it as the greatest honor to respect their dignity through the best care possible,” he said.

The archbishop added that Catholic institutions and associations would be willing to work with the government to remedy the problem.

The review examined the question of whether elderly patients were treated with respect and if they were given food and drink that met their needs.

But it found that 18 hospitals — nearly a fifth — were failing to meet the basic legal standards and that a further 35 needed to make improvements in their standard of care. Just 45 hospitals inspected were found to be “fully compliant” with their obligations toward elderly patients.

Among the problems identified was the failure to help patients to eat and the interruption of patients while they were eating so that their meals went unfinished.

The privacy of the elderly was not always respected, according to the report, because of, for example, the failure to close curtains and screens.

Call bells were in some cases put out of reach or not answered soon enough, and this left some patients rattling bed rails or banging water jugs to attract attention. Hospital staff also spoke to some patients in a “dismissive or disrespectful way,” the commission found.

The report blamed excessive bureaucracy and short staffing in some hospitals but also found that such problems existed even on wards that were well-staffed because of the “poor attitudes” of some doctors and nurses.

Dame Jo Williams, chairwoman of the commission, said the findings were “truly alarming and deeply disappointing.”

Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury criticized the findings in an Oct. 15 speech to an annual meeting of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, suggesting such findings could be a symptom of the “emerging culture of death” predicted by Blessed John Paul II in the 1995 papal encyclical “Evangelium Vitae.”

“Management and nursing practice have been questioned, but surely we have need today to ask more searching questions of ourselves in a country where millions of lives have been destroyed in abortion, where human life is routinely experimented upon and discarded and when, today, pressure grows for what is called ‘mercy killing’ to end the lives of the terminally ill and the aged,” Bishop Davies said.

“So as a society we have need to ask: Are we losing that respect and reverence for what Blessed John Paul II called, ‘the sacred value of human life … the incomparable value of every human person’ on which the very ideal of the hospital and the caring professions are founded?” the bishop asked.

“Could it be that we have begun to dismiss the cries of the weakest in the place where they expected to receive the greatest care because their impaired lives no longer seem to have any great value?” he asked his audience in Ellesmere Port, England.

Dr. Michael Jarmulowicz, a member of the Catholic Medical Association who has worked in major London hospitals, said he believed the problem stemmed essentially from a “gradual eroding of the culture of vocation” of medical professionals.

“The culture of death, I think, is part of it,” said Jarmulowicz, who is also a permanent deacon, in an Oct. 19 telephone interview with Catholic News Service. “People aren’t seen with the dignity they have and are sometimes being called ‘clients.’

“But we are changing the culture from caring to competition,” he said. “With competition you cut costs … everything is breaking down from a proper caring profession to a business and that is what you get.”

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