Neglect of the elderly in hospitals: is this a real problem?
In this article, we’re looking at neglect of the elderly in hospitals and investigating the real extent of this problem.
Medical negligence is a growing concern and issue in the UK for many GP practices and hospitals. It’s a sad fact that, in UK hospitals, a considerable number of elderly patients are abused or neglected for various reasons.
In this article, we’ll look at the common forms of abuse suffered by the elderly while in hospital and explore the extent of the problem in UK hospitals.
How are elderly people neglected in hospital?
The word ‘neglect’ covers a wide range of actions. In this section, we’ll look at some of the ways that elderly people experience neglect and abuse in UK hospitals, including:
All too often, the elderly are victims of medical negligence while in hospital, most commonly it can include being given the wrong medication or not being given the medication that they need. Common medical negligence can also include an elderly patient being refused painkillers and being left in extreme discomfort for hours at a time.
A large number of people report some shocking claims in terms of neglect while in hospital and these include:
- Failing to change bedding for several days
- Failing to clean patients who have soiled themselves
- Failing to assist patients to wash or shower for long periods of time
This type of neglect can be extremely distressing for an elderly patient who may not have the ability to get out of bed in order to clean themselves and to obtain clean clothing or pajamas.
While serious physical abuse such as causing injury or sexual assault is thankfully rare in UK hospitals, an alarming number of elderly patients and their families report incidents of physical abuse including:
- Rough handling when moving patients in and out of bed and into wheelchairs
- Failing to provide – or withholding – food and water
- Being left unattended in corridors for hours or even days
- Failing to manage pain
In addition to the incidents of physical abuse described above, it is also important to note that many elderly patients in UK hospitals suffer from dysphagia. This condition makes it difficult to swallow and can lead to malnutrition and dehydration if not properly managed. Hospital staff must learn about dysphagia and implement appropriate measures to ensure the safety and well-being of their patients. Failure to address this issue can also be considered a form of physical abuse, as it directly affects the health and quality of life of these vulnerable patients.
Is the abuse of elderly people in hospital underreported?
While a consultation was set up in 2013 which aimed to make data on UK hospitals more widely available, there are no hard and fast figures as to how many elderly people are abused every year.
However, the NHS receives around 16,484 negligence claims every year, costing the organisation huge amounts of money in compensation. The lack of figures on abuse of the elderly may be explained by the fact that many elderly patients are alone or ‘don’t wish to make a fuss’ by filing a complaint. Added to this, is the fact that some elderly patients suffer from dementia which makes identifying issues a lot more difficult.
However, a report created some 12 years ago on the findings of an investigation revealed that “Of the nearly 9,000 official complaints made about the NHS to the Ombudsman last year, 18% were about the care of older people. This is twice as many cases than all other age groups put together”. Despite this, little seems to have changed when it comes to the attitude toward elderly care in hospital.
What to do if you suspect abuse of an elderly person by a hospital
If you or a loved one have suffered abuse, neglect or negligence while in a UK hospital, the first thing to do is to make notes of the abuse – including the dates and times and the name(s) of staff members involved.
Then you should speak to the person who is directly in charge of your or their care while in hospital (staff members should be able to provide you with this information). If this does not resolve the situation or the person is unavailable, you can escalate this by contacting your local Integrated Care Board (ICB) who will be able to offer advice on your individual situation.
If you believe that abuse has occurred, you should also seek out the services of a medical negligence solicitor who will be able to let you know if you have a legal case against the hospital or doctor and, in the event that you have a case, can help you to navigate this complicated process.
Protecting the elderly in hospital…
For most of us, the idea of ourselves or a loved one suffering abuse at the hands of the people charged with our care is unthinkable. But the rising number of medical negligence cases – and newspaper headlines – suggest that this is a reality for a number of elderly patients every year.
As the NHS continues to suffer negative headlines almost every week, it’s clear that there is still much work to be done to protect the elderly in hospital in terms of care, compassion and simple dignity.
Please be advised that this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for advice from a trained legal professional. Be sure to consult a lawyer/solicitor if you’re seeking advice on medical negligence claims. We are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information on this site.