|Elderly patients dying of thirst: Doctors forced to prescribe drinking water to keep the old alive, reveals devastating report on hospital care
Doctors are prescribing drinking water for neglected elderly patients to stop them dying of thirst in hospital.
The measure – to remind nurses of the most basic necessity – is revealed in a damning report on pensioner care in NHS wards.
Some trusts are neglecting the elderly on such a fundamental level their wards could face closure orders.
The snapshot study, triggered by a Mail campaign, found staff routinely ignored patients’ calls for help and forgot to check that they had had enough to eat and drink.
Dehydration contributes to the death of more than 800 hospital patients every year.
Another 300 die malnourished. The latest report – by the Care Quality Commission – found patients frequently complained they were spoken to in a ‘condescending and dismissive’ manner.
The watchdog said three of 12 NHS trusts visited in the past three months were failing to meet the most basic standards required by law.
They were: Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust and Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust in North London.
The findings follow a joint campaign by the Mail and the Patients Association last year which exposed shocking examples of substandard care.
Similar failings were highlighted earlier this year by the Health Service Ombudsman who cited cases of patients left to become so thirsty they could not cry for help.
Since February, a team of inspectors from the CQC – including a nurse and an elderly patient – have been visiting 100 NHS trusts unannounced to check elderly patients are treated with dignity.
Stamping it out: Health Secretary Andrew Lansley ordered the review by the CQC to put a quick end to poor patient care
They found other, less serious concerns at a further three trusts: Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Homerton University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in London and the Wye Valley NHS Trust – meaning just half of hospitals were providing the most basic standards of care.
The results of the remaining trusts will be published later this year but the watchdog said the findings from this first wave of inspections was likely to be a ‘snapshot’ of all hospitals across the country.
At Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, Worcestershire, inspectors reported ‘major’ concerns on nutrition. Doctors often have to prescribe ‘drinking water’ for patients to ensure nurses remember to give them enough fluids.
At Ipswich Hospital, the elderly are made to suffer the indignity of using a commode by their bedside because staff are too busy to take them to the toilet.
Inspectors also found routine examples of patients’ meals being dumped by their bed while they were asleep and then taken away again untouched.
Emergency call buttons are often left out of patients’ reach and they often have to press them seven times before a nurse responds. One elderly man was forced to attract attention by banging on his water jug or shouting.
Other concerns included staff not closing the curtains around a patient’s bed before examining them. The three failing trusts will be given several months to improve before being inspected again. If they are still not deemed to be up to scratch the worst could be fined, and the relevant wards shut down.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘The overwhelmingly majority of people of this country would never treat their older friends and relatives like this, and yet this is the experience of too many people on hospital wards.
‘These are not the extras, these are not try-to-dos. These are must-dos.’