My grandmother was a nurse, so were two of her daughters. My aunt served in the Queen Alexandra Nursing Corps, and my mother qualified during the Second World War first as a State Registered Nurse, then a State Certified Midwife.
After the war ended, the National Health Service was introduced. Mother was tremendously proud of her profession and of the achievements of the new health service. As you would expect, I grew up to respect health professionals and to support the NHS.
So it goes hard with me to make negative criticism of the care and professional standards I have witnessed during Mother’s hospital stays. I expect health professionals to know their stuff, and when I realised that not just one or two, but the majority knew little or nothing about dementia, it was an unwelcome shock. Worse, they were not willing to admit their ignorance. My suggestions and advice were largely ignored, some staff listened to me with barely concealed impatience. Who suffered from this? Why, Mother of course. I am sure I am an irritating relative, but I’m not going to sit back politely and I watch medical staff, from the consultant downwards, make life more difficult for Mother than it already is, or dismiss her as incapable, without intervening.
It felt as though there was an accepted culture of dealing with patients with dementia, which, although ineffective, was not going to change any time soon. Some staff are visibly embarrassed at how they do not know how communicate effectively with confused and elderly patients. We tend to move away from things we are not good at, so neglect becomes an issue. The fault is seen is lying with the patient, not the staff’s lack of skill and training in adjusting their communication methods to suit the patient’s needs.
Another patient in the same bay as my mother was calling out. She also had dementia and was evidently confused and frustrated. Her language became increasingly colourful. Staff tutted, told her off and described her as a nuisance. I only saw one nurse approach her with any degree of understanding and sympathy.
Given that the numbers of people with dementia is expected to rise, this seems to me to be a crisis. The medical profession needs to start to address how it cares for people with Alzheimer’s Disease or vascular dementia in hospital as a matter of urgency. At the moment these patients are getting a raw deal.
The elderly are vulnerable to all sorts of abuse, both physical and emotional. They need and deserve our protection. too often they are not able to speak up for or to defend themselves. If we treated sick children in hospital the way we do our elderly there would be a national scandal.
Oh, and I have written this in the new full screen format, and it feels much nicer. Not as cramped!