I wonder how many other older people like me watched the recent programmes screened last week and this by the BBC, as well as the Panorama programme on Wednesday evening. It made salutary viewing and brought the predicted outcry, bluster and hot-air from politicians and the media. Such revelations always do, for a short time, like the revelations about paedophilia and prominent names, but then the blustering gives way as the hot-air bubbles are pricked and the rhetoric drifts away to be forgotten – except by the victims and their families.
In 2004 I visited a geriatric ward in Cardiff’s Heath Hospital and was so incensed by what I saw, I wrote to the then Minister of Health, Jane Hutt AM, and her Deputy Minister, John Griffiths AM, at the Welsh Assembly in Wales. I invited them to do as I had done, but to do so without warning and without their retinue of civil servants in attendance. They never did, although they wrote (the letters remain on my files) suggesting that the patients involved could write a letter of complaint to the hospital authorities. Looking at the patients involved in the Panorama programme, I doubt many of them would have been capable of doing so, and their families were too scared of the possible repercussions on the patients.
Why was I there? I was visiting my aunt; then in her early nineties, who was a patient there for about one week for observation and treatment. She was visited twice a day by her daughter who ensured her mother both ate and drank the nourishment she had prepared at home while she was there. My aunt was summarily brought home by my cousin when she found her mother in some distress having soiled her bed following several calls for a nurse to help her use a bedpan. The patients either side of my aunt were not so lucky, having family who rarely visited and only did so late in the evening.
While visiting, I witnessed a male ward orderly, serving tea from a trolley, pick up full cups of undrunk tea; replace it with a fresh one but make no attempt to help the supine bird-fragile figure, lying helpless and moaning on the bed to even sip her drink. When I remarked that the patient needed help, the response was, ‘That’s not my job.’
We have heard that same reply all too often since it became fashionable to delegate responsibility in what has become the blame-and-claim, compensation-seeking culture of our modern world. Old people are as much a part of our culture as the young. They belong with their families. My father lived with my family for seventeen years following my mother’s death. I won’t pretend there were no tensions. He drove us mad – at times, but he meant well and I remembered the doting father of an only child, who’d carried me everywhere when I seemed to be at death’s door for almost two years. So, when it was my turn to care, I was fortunate to have a husband who believed in the same values, and who originally suggested that my dad came to live with us.
Hearing that the company operating the care-home in question made a profit of some one million pounds last year, makes one realise how much money is involved in families and local authorities financing such places. It would make more sense if the state helped families to provide necessary care for people in their own homes. Carers who drop in for a few minutes are not the answer. Better provision of better trained, better paid carers would make more sense and would be a more efficient way of utilising tax-payers’ money. Older people need to have their personal dignity respected, but don’t need to be locked away in seclusion where unseen, they can be subjected to the kind of abuse we witnessed on the Panorama programme.