A coalition of politicians, regulators and charities declare today that NHS nurses and care workers should sign up to a new code of conduct which guarantees that elderly patients are treated with dignity and respect and not simply treated as objects. They warn that pensioners in the care system are being prevented from making up their own minds, denied treatment on the basis of their age, spoken down to and denied their privacy.
The need for a new Dignity Code has been put forward in a letter to The Daily Telegraph, which calls for hospitals, care homes and other institutions to agree a set of common standards of care for the first time to prevent cases of abuse and neglect. Eventually, care workers could have this code written into their contracts.
The letter warns: “For too long, too many of those people have been ignored, denied the basic right to speak for themselves or make up their own mind. In this era of human rights, too many older people have seen their basic human dignity undermined in situations where they are treated as objects rather than people.”
It is hoped that the code will be on display in every care home, doctors’ surgery and hospital ward and be made a central plank of nurses’ and care workers’ training. It follows a series of scandals involving the abuse of the elderly and disabled and comes at a time when funding of elderly care is under unprecedented scrutiny.
Currently in England, there are 400,000 people in care homes, while over two million older people need care in some form.
The letter was signed by 21 public figures, including the heads of Age UK, the Royal College of Nursing, the TUC (Trade Union Congress) and the Care Quality Commission. They demand an end, not just to extreme cases of abuse, but to everyday practices which diminish the dignity of older people.
It states: “In extreme cases, there have been instances of abuse and neglect, but there are many examples of older people being spoken about as if they were not there, deprived of basic privacy or denied respect for their hygiene or personal appearance. At times people have been refused treatment on grounds of age while others have been subject to unnecessary medication or restraints. This has to stop.”
The code, published today, calls on nurses and carers always to obtain concent for treatments and also demnads that elderly people are allowed to “speak for themselves” either directly, or in cases where this is no longer possible, through a friend or relative. Most significantly, it calls for carers to address patients formally, unless invited to do otherwise.
Don Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners’ Convention, said: “Much of what the Dignity Code calls for is to treat individuals as human beings, rather than second-class citizens who can have their wishes and feelings overlooked. Providing someone with personal dignity must be a basic requirement in any care setting.”
Dr Peter Carter, chief exec of the Royal College of Nursing and one of the signatories, said: “Nurses can and should be leaders in developing the right attitudes towards older people and their needs and dignity.” He also noted that the population is getting older and people need to realise this, and embrace the change.
To download a copy of the Dignity Code, click here.
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Written exclusively for The Life Dept | Live Longer | 22 February 2012
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