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How to avoid another mid-Staffs hospital scandal

Published on 25 March 2013 02:00 PM

With the Government due to respond to the Francis Report into the Mid Staffs scandal tomorrow, Age UK sets out its view of what that response needs to include to make sure no hospital in the UK puts its patients at risk in future.


At the time of the Francis report, the Government announced it would give its official response a month after its publication. That announcement is now expected on Tuesday March 26 2013.

The importance of the Government's response cannot be overstated. It will be a blue print for the kind of care and treatment people across the UK should expect from now on.

The majority of patients in the NHS are people in later life, with 65% of those in hospital beds at any one time aged 65 and over. Many will be frail, suffering from dementia and with complicated conditions. We need to ensure our hospitals are equipped to care for older people with skill and compassion.

Age UK sets out here what it hopes to see the Government pledge to change, to make sure the inhumane and undignified care seen in Mid Staffs can never happen again.

Patient voices must be heard, taken seriously and acted on

The NHS often reflects the concerns and priorities of professionals rather than having a clear focus on listening to patients and families and ensuring they have the best possible experience. Patients need to be full and equal partners in both their own care and in the broader decisions about how the system works.

The NHS must make a major investment in patient leadership if it is serious about becoming more patient-centred and if it is to fulfil its pledge to put people first every time.

Openness and transparency

All organisations that have an impact on patient care should be open to public scrutiny. This includes providers, commissioners and the professional bodies which set standards.

People have a right to know about the standards achieved by every NHS organisation, to comment on performance and scrutinise decisions that impact on care and on how the system is run. These discussions and decisions should not be held behind closed doors.

We also need to be clear about not conflating professional and patient interests. It is perfectly legitimate for organisations to exist to represent their members' professional interests but there should be a clear separation between this activity and that of ensuring the best experience for patients.

There must be a culture change from top to bottom in attitudes and approaches to patient care

Mid-Staffs must not be seen as an isolated case. Many of the issues raised by the inquiry - older patients not provided with adequate nutrition and hydration, their personal hygiene not attended to, and not being treated with dignity and respect - are still experienced all too often by older people in both health and social care settings. We now need sustained action that delivers deep and lasting change at every level.

Proper training for all health professionals in the care and treatment of older people

Because the majority of hospital patients are in later life most health professionals will spend the bulk of their time caring for older people, but their training does not currently give them the right skills. This must change if patients are to get the dignified care they have a right to expect. It is not enough to create specialist ‘older person' nurses - all medical professionals must know how to care for the group that makes up the majority of their patients.

Performance across the NHS should be rated on quality, safety, clinical effectiveness and patient experience

Systems of performance management within the NHS need to become tougher and much more meaningful. The performance of senior staff must be measured against quality, safety, clinical effectiveness and patient experience, with patient experience no longer viewed as of only minor significance in the review process.

Better training, conditions, career progression and registration for health care assistants

Health care assistants play a critical role in the care of patients since they do much of the everyday work of looking after them. Yet at present the system does not recognise or reward them when they do really well, or tackle their performance if it is not good enough.

Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General of Age UK commented, 'Appalling and undignified care has been tolerated too often and for too long, to the extent there's a risk that older people will become frightened of going into hospital, rather than seeing it as a safe place of healing and care. This is our generation's opportunity to change the reality and the perception of NHS care for the better and Government must seize it.

'This means committing to ensuring that dignified care is a top priority for the NHS at every level, from the most senior to the most junior member of staff.

'Fundamental to achieving this is an NHS which listens to its patients and families and values their contributions, and that provides proper training for the majority of staff who will spend the bulk of their time caring for older people.

'The events of Mid Staffs were horrific but unfortunately not unique. It's time to rid the NHS of the scourge and the fear of undignified care once and for all.'

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Last updated: Dec 05 2018

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