The healthcare system must recognise the need for specialist skills to nurse an aging population if it is to avoid the “shocking” care failures revealed in the ombudsman’s report, senior nurses have warned.
Health service ombudsman Ann Abraham last week published accounts of 10 investigations into the treatment of older people in the NHS, which she said demonstrated failure “to provide even the most basic standards of care”.
They included accounts of one woman who arrived at a care home from hospital with “numerous injuries”, soaked in urine, and wearing someone else’s clothes. Another woman suffered nine falls, but nurses recorded only one and “failed to cooperate” with medical recommendations that a mattress be placed next to her bed.
Half of the patients documented did not consume enough food and water while in hospital.
While acknowledging that the examples highlighted were unacceptable, nursing bodies also warned that moves over the past 15 years to reduce hospital treatment times combined with an aging population, meant acute wards now had higher concentrations of older people with complex needs.
Royal College of Nursing policy director Howard Catton said: “These are shocking, completely unacceptable examples of poor individual care.”
But he added: “If, day in day out you’re dealing with these demanding patients, if there isn’t clear clinical leadership and you haven’t got the right level of staffing, that has an impact on the way people go about their work.
“I’m not saying people consciously set out to give a poor or minimum standard of care, but people can become worn down by the environment in which they work – I think they call it compassion fatigue.”
Jonathan Webster, honorary nurse clinical director for older people at University College London, said there was still a lack of recognition that nursing for older people was as much an area of specialist practice as any other.
He said: “Historically, I think, some areas of care for older people have relied more on unregistered nurses, when, if you look at the needs of older people, they are highly complex.”
Soline Jerram, chair of the British Geriatric Society older people’s consultant nurses’ group, highlighted that it could be difficult to attract staff to older people’s wards, because it was not seen as a “sexy” area of nursing.
Source : Nursing Times