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Sunday, 3 June 2007

Would you rather live to be old or die before you become old?

Editor-At-Large: I wish The Zimmers long life. But I hope I die before I get old - Janet Street-Porter writing in The Independent on Sunday


"And talking of care homes, I once wrote that if I start to go senile, hand me a plastic bag, because I'd rather end it all quickly than spend my last decade watching daytime telly in a room reeking of boiled cabbage and stale urine. Loads of you wrote to agree. And finally our wonderful government has woken up to the fact that voters are the crumblies, the pensioners and the middle-aged, all of whom probably view the prospect of spending any time in a care home as a thoroughly grim prospect to be avoided at all costs. Only this week, 15 elderly residents in a care home in Lancashire owned by Brightcrest Ltd were told to get their stuff together by 2pm THAT SAME DAY and vacate the premises by 8pm because the company had gone bust.

Time and time again, there are stories of homes closing without warning, of appalling standards, of fires and of lifts breaking down, leaving residents marooned on an upper floor for weeks on end. Sensing a vote-grabbing initiative, the Department of Health last week announced it was going to spend £67m refurbishing 7,000 UK care homes. Shall I do the maths for you? That's a paltry £9,571 per home, not even a well-equipped new kitchen, not a new roof, not a new garden, enough for a new telly, a couple of cheap three-piece suites, a few beds and a lick of paint. BIG DEAL.

And four out of 10 old people in hospital are malnourished because the Department of Health can't be arsed to spend enough on nursing auxiliaries to make sure everyone gets help to eat. At present, two nurses and a couple of helpers per 25 people are all that's allocated. So The Zimmers can sing about "Their Generation" but the tragedy is that 3.5 million older people live alone, and it's not a lot of fun singing along to the telly by yourself, hoping that Meals on Wheels doesn't forget you, is it?"

1 comment:

  1. You are spot on.

    I am a registered nurse who works on a 30 bed acute medical ward.

    Around 10-15 of those patients are very acutely ill and need nearly one to one support by a qualified nurse due to IV meds/labs/ and the fact that they require constant depth nursing assesments and monitering to survive.

    They rest of our patient population out of 30 are usually very elderly and although they are not acutely ill they are unable to feed themselves and go to the toilet.

    We currently have 19 patients on the ward who require feeding. These people are unable to feed themselves diet or take oral fluids independently usually due to advanced dementia.

    Guess how many staff we are currently allowed to have on the ward per shift: 1-2 nurses and 1-2 auxillaries for a total of 4 members of staff maximum. Management has refused to pay for any more. The managers make these decisions yet never seem to be on the receiving end of the public's anger.

    Frontline staff nurses who are at hour 14 of 15 hour shift without a drink or a break are verbally attacked and accused of being lazy or too stupid too understand that it is cruel to not feed people.

    Think about the logistics of 4 members of staff feeding 19 people if each feed takes about 20 minutes.

    That is assuming that the RN's are able to leave their critical patients to help feed. It is usually more like 2 members of staff trying to feed 19 people and answer call bells at the same time.

    There is no way to avoid situations such as trays being left to go cold in front of people who cannot feed themselves, or people who have accidents at mealtime being left to sit in it because the staff are trying to feed. There is no way to avoid this from happening.

    We are often running our arses off for 15 hours without a break trying to care for critical patients and providing basic nursing care to others.

    We are frequently on the receiving end of the rage of irate relatives of our patients. They accuse us of leaving trays in front of patients who cannot feed themselves because the nurses these days "don't care, can't be bothered etc etc". If I have a patient who starts bleeding to death I am accousted by angry relatives of other patients whilst I am trying to hang a blood transfusion or get an airway into someone else. They think I am intentionally neglecting their loved one.

    When will safe staffing levels become the primary focus rather than attacking the nursing profession for not being able to be 10 places at once.