Thousands of elderly people are suffering poor and unsafe care in hospitals and care homes, a watchdog said last night.  Callous staff routinely treat pensioners with little respect and do not even help them to eat their meals when they are clearly malnourished.  Fifteen per cent of hospitals and 20 per cent of nursing homes failed to meet national standards on ensuring residents had enough food and drink, and the help they needed to consume it, a report found.

Ten per cent of NHS hospitals and 15 per cent of nursing homes failed to meet standards on treating patients with dignity and respect. Only 2 per cent of private hospitals had the same failings.

The damning study by the Care Quality Commission watchdog revealed that too many doctors, nurses and care home staff see patients not as people but as tasks to be completed.

Care staff ‘fail to see past the illness’ or ‘treat each person as someone deserving respect and understanding, empathy and kindness’.

The report is based on evidence from 13,000 CQC inspections carried out last year. Inspectors found examples of nurses failing to close curtains when they were carrying out personal tasks, talking over patients and speaking to them in a ‘condescending or dismissive way’.

Many hospitals had call bells out of reach, or their staff failed to answer them in a reasonable time.
Many also failed to identify patients who were malnourished or to ensure they had food if they missed a set meal time because they were having an operation.

Short-staffing at almost a quarter of nursing homes and 16 per cent of hospitals was putting the quality and safety of care at risk, it found. Not having enough staff was a ‘major ingredient’ of poor care.

Where ‘staff are stretched’ standards slip, the report said.

Fourteen per cent of hospitals and no fewer than 33 per cent of nursing homes failed to give and keep medicines correctly. Three quarters of nursing homes failed to train staff correctly. Eleven per cent of hospitals failed to ensure decent cleanliness and infection control.

The Mail has long exposed poor treatment of the elderly in hospitals, nursing homes and residential homes as part of its Dignity For The Elderly campaign.

The State of Care report blamed the failings on a culture where ‘the unacceptable becomes the norm’.

It said: ‘Those who are responsible for the training and development of staff need to look hard at why “care” often seems to be broken down into tasks to be completed – focusing on the unit of work, rather than the person who needs to be looked after. It is not good enough and it is not what people want and expect. Kindness and compassion cost nothing.’

The CQC, which regulates health and social care in England, said it found too many hospitals and homes where patients are treated as objects.

‘A lack of dignity and respect is a persistent issue and one that has been hard to shift,’ the report said. ‘Staff have a huge responsibility to see past the illness or condition and to the patient as a person.’

In care homes, the report condemned examples of poor care including cutting up someone’s food without asking them, and ‘getting people ready for bed at a time that suits staff rather than the individual people being cared for’. Lack of help with eating and drinking is a real concern, the report found.

Age UK’s charity director general, Michelle Mitchell, said: ‘This report is a serious indictment of the way that older people are cared for in England today.

‘It is appalling that 15 per cent of hospitals and 20 per cent of nursing homes failed to ensure people were given the food and drink they needed and that a significant proportion were equally unable to protect the dignity and respect of their patients and residents.’

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: ‘There can be no hiding place for those providing poor care.’