A recently-published report has found that more than 20% of NHS hospital patients polled in 2012 did not feel they were treated with dignity and respect.
One in three patients did not receive the assistance they required at mealtimes and around half of these patients were aged 65 or over. Elderly patients were most critical of their care overall.
The findings were based on a wide-reaching survey of thousands of hospital patients whose detailed opinions of their care were recorded in 2012-13.
The results, which were analysed by researchers at the London School of Economics, revealed that poor quality care was not confined to a minority of hospitals, but was actually a systemic problem affecting the vast majority of hospitals in England.
According to the report, 2.6 million people, including more than 1 million over 65s said they had experienced poor or inconsistent standards of dignity and respect and felt they were provided with inadequate standards of care even at the most basic level such as not even being given help with their meals.
Shockingly, older people, women, those over 80 and patients with disabilities or longstanding illnesses such as the deaf or blind were amongst those found to be more likely to receive substandard care.
One of the indicators of a modern and efficient health service is how well older patients are cared for. Figures such as these are unfortunately not wholly surprising as we know that elderly patients, who are naturally frequent users of health services and are also more prone to suffering in silence for fear of not wanting to be seen as a burden or as a difficult or ungrateful patient, are often subject to inadequate and undignified care.
Although the report raises serious concerns about medical negligence and the standards of care provided in NHS hospitals, NHS England has claimed that since the survey was undertaken, there has been an increase in the number of nurses on wards and the results for more recent years should therefore be improved.
The Care Quality Commission, the NHS care regulator, has indicated that more recent surveys had found that far fewer patients were unsatisfied with the care they received. Just 5% of patients in its most recent survey reported not being assisted at mealtimes and 81% said they were always treated with dignity and respect.
Having worked with clients who have spent extensive periods as inpatients in NHS hospitals, I understand the importance of all patients being treated with compassion and respect. Although it appears that care has improved since this survey was undertaken, hospitals cannot afford to be complacent in their efforts to deliver quality care.
April Horsman is a Trainee Solicitor in the Clinical Negligence department of Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
Our Hospital Negligence Solicitors can provide immediate legal representation and rehabilitation support anywhere in England, Scotland and Wales and offer hospital and home visits for people who cannot attend one of our offices. Call us for a free consultation on 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.