Starving Of The Elderly

A health minister made the shameful admission that elderly people are effectively being starved in care homes and hospitals. Ivan Lewis said some are given just a single scoop of mash as a meal. Other bedridden pensioners are ‘tortured’ with trays of food placed just out of their reach.

The minister’s words are a stunning acknowledgement of how the care system still lets down the frail and elderly after nearly ten years of Labour rule.

They follow years of campaigning by charities and the Daily Mail to expose appalling deficiencies in the care of the over-65s.

Mr Lewis will launch an official campaign this week to improve the quality of food offered to thousands of vulnerable old people.

But his belated move drew a lukewarm response from campaigners. Help the Aged said: ‘This is an issue we have been lobbying over for a long time and something the Government has known about for years. I hope it gets the proper attention and investment now.’

A spokesman for the charity Independent Age said: ‘The Government has now finally realised, after years of campaigning, that it has a problem. Now it has to ensure its plans and initiatives are carried forward.’

Mr Lewis, the minister responsible for the elderly, gave a starkly frank account of the daily suffering in institutions where cost-cutting and indifference are rife.

He said: ‘A single scoop of mashed potato, lonely in the middle of the plate. It’s not an appetising meal. Yet for some elderly patients in hospital, this masquerades as lunch every day.

‘Plastic cutlery has its place at a summer picnic, but not for everyday use.

‘Yet some older people are still being served their dinners with plastic cutlery, even though they have suffered a paralysing stroke which making it impossible for them to eat properly.

‘Some have a tray placed on the end of the bed, tantalising with hot food. It may be just an inch out of reach but it might as well be a mile.

‘To a bedridden pensioner, it must seem like torture.’

Speaking to a local newspaper in Birmingham, where the campaign will be launched this week, Mr Lewis added: ‘We wouldn’t put up with this happening to our children, so why should we find it acceptable for our older people?’

The Daily Mail’s Dignity for the Elderly campaign has chronicled in full the suffering of pensioners who find themselves neglected and mistreated by a system they spent years supporting through their taxes.

Last August. Age Concern warned that some elderly people were having their lives put at risk because many nurses were too busy to feed them properly.

It said that, instead of getting better, already-vulnerable OAPs could have their health damaged by going into care.

Figures from official inspectors published in December 2005 found that more than 2,000 care homes for the elderly failed to meet minimum nutrition requirements.

Yet it is precisely these people – who are most at risk of becoming ill – who need the highest standards of nutrition.

The cost of the failures to the NHS is estimated at more than £7.3billion a year.

Poorly-fed patients stay in hospital longer, have a higher death rate and are three times more likely to develop complications during surgery.

Mr Lewis said the government’s ‘Dignity for Older People’ campaign would concentrate on nutrition and the way the elderly are fed. A network of local ‘champions for dignity’ will be set up to promote better care in their area.

He added: ‘Where bad practices still occur, it’s time to stamp them out for good.

‘After a lifetime’s service to our country, every older person who needs health or care services has the right to receive these and be treated with dignity.’

But charities pointed to the Government’s dismal record of looking after the elderly and questioned whether the new initiative is just another ‘flash in the pan’ gimmick.

Independent Age said: ‘The whole issue of the elderly in hospital is something health professionals have put on the backburner for far too long.

‘Underlying ageism in the health service means the needs of elderly people have always been put to the back of the queue.

‘This initiative could fall by the wayside. We will be watching carefully to make sure it is not a flash in the pan lasting only a few months.

‘There is no way of knowing until we see the results in a year or two.’

Help the Aged said: ‘This is a great scheme if the investment is put in to make it happen. As well as providing money for fruit and veg, there needs to be investment in staff and resources.

‘Often staff don’t have time to sit and eat with patients, but the right nutrition is sometimes vital to the recovery of an elderly person.’