Families Cheer, Some Doctors Worry as Nursing Homes Open Doors Wide to Visitors
By Peter McKenna, PhD
BBC News, Aberdeen
For thousands of elderly people, if not millions of others, hospital visits are an isolating and unsafe experience.But in recent years, they have become increasingly common, as a baby boomers generation and longer life expectancies have combined to create a bulging and ageing population. It’s a phenomenon which has been accelerated by the mobile NHS and modern healthcare. Roughly 2,200 nursing homes opened in the UK between 2005 and 2013, according to the Council of Nursing Services. A further 13,000 will be opened over the next five years. So there are now a significant number of elderly people who don’t always have the opportunity to get into hospital and will now increasingly have their medical needs looked after outside the wards of a hospital. This, as one senior health official points out, is “going to introduce new levels of risk”. Yet hospitals have been almost unwatchable this year. Doctors at Surrey Royal Derbyshire Hospital lost patience with hard-core health tourists in April, when they prevented a mother from going on a family holiday to Portugal. More recently, a grandmother in her 70s was admitted to London’s St George’s Hospital with fevers, pain, difficulty breathing and numb fingers. The senior woman’s friends – two of whom were family visiting – were also told she was on high risk of sepsis and could be transferred to intensive care any time. But, when they begged to be allowed to stay in the nursing home, her treatment was being delayed by staff. She was airlifted to hospital that night. In June, a 71-year-old woman who had a bed sore and intermittent diarrhoea was not seen for 10 days at the same hospital. She was reportedly not receiving treatment because she had not been in the hospital long enough to qualify for free care. On Tuesday, doctors at Scunthorpe District Hospital made the decision not to treat a 71-year-old woman with aches and pains. She was admitted on 23 August, but by the time her admission was reviewed on 16 October, she had not been seen again. The reason: the lady, who lives in an adult nursing home, had requested regular visits, but was forced to sleep on a ground floor of the hospital due to the prevalence of bedsores. At the same time, staff were forced to deny a request from another frail patient to be seen for a short time on another floor to clean up. The 71-year-old patient was soon returned to the main inpatient ward where, it appears, she was never seen again. The experience leaves patients with nowhere to go except the general ward. This is in contrast to older people, who enjoy the safety of their family doctor. Dr Katrina Marron, a GP at Winterbourne View, once again on Tuesday, chose to offer counsel to the 81-year-old woman who had spent four days on a ward. “The heart goes out to that woman,” Dr Marron says. “When we see a serious condition, we treat it and end up getting our whole patient out and about again in as quick a time as possible. I have looked after a patient with pneumonia myself, and they can be very useful visiting doctors. “For these people, a visit by a GP or a visiting partner helps people in their recovery and gives them more support as well.” She added: “The experiences like these are confusing, because it makes it difficult to know how the treatment was handled. “I see a lot of elderly patients with family who stay behind and help them but it is very expensive. I want them to be treated effectively – I hope they are getting that.” Dr Marron says it would be “highly irresponsible” to continue treating patients who don’t fulfil their basic requirements. But, in the age of privatisation, people such as Janet and Colin Davis, from Glasgow, say it is up to individual hospitals to decide how they do it.
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