The overcrowded wards of shame Elderly exposed to risk of …
Elderly patients are being crammed into some of the most overcrowded wards in Europe putting them at risk of infection and neglect.
The Daily Mail can reveal pensioners are suffering the indignity of being shunted in and out of beds more often than almost anywhere in the world.
As a result, hundreds of thousands are sent home every year much earlier than is healthy for them.
Neglected and left in a ‘cupboard’: Doris McKeown was kept in a windowless room surrounded by hospital supplies in the cupboard called a treatment room at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital
A damning international study has found that the occupancy rate of hospital beds in Britain is exceeded in only three European countries.
The shortage has led to shocking neglect, such as elderly people being left in store rooms and mop cupboards and frail patients not being helped to eat their meals because nurses are overstretched.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of pensioners are transported between wards on trolleys for no clinical reason increasing the chance that they will deteriorate or miss vital dosages of medicine. Even former Communist states such as Slovakia and Hungary which spend far less on healthcare have far more hospital beds per patient.
News of the appalling shortages comes just days after the Daily Mail and the Patients Association launched a joint campaign to end the neglect of the elderly.
MY TWO-DAY ORDEAL IN A ‘CUPBOARD’
Confused and in pain, this 80-year-old was left in a hospital cupboard to await surgery.
Doris McKeown spent 48 hours in the tiny windowless room, with nothing but shelves of hospital supplies for company.
While there, she suffered the indignity of being overlooked for medication and meals.
Mrs McKeown was admitted to Norfolk and Norwich Hospital last October needing an urgent operation for compression of the nerves in her spine, which can lead to paralysis.
The mother of two said: It was like a broom cupboard. I had nurses coming in all the time to pick up supplies and they were very good, but as I wasn t on the proper ward I missed out on some of the rounds for meals and medication.
I didn t get put on the ward until after the operation two nights later.
It s extraordinary that patients have to be looked after in a cupboard because the hospital doesn t have enough beds.
The hospital said the room was not a cupboard but a treatment room.
We are calling for an entirely independent complaints process and the appointment of a new generation of matrons with power to challenge trusts over care standards.
The association also wants to raise 100,000 to increase staffing on a helpline that is inundated with complaints from angry patients. The Mail has put 50,000 toward this target and is urging readers to match the sum.
Bed shortages are a growing problem in the NHS. There are around 175,000 acute care beds a number which has fallen over the past two decades.
Although this is partly because the NHS is better at treating people more quickly, there are fears that beds are axed to save money.
The report on occupancy levels, by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, found that at any one time, around 83 per cent of beds are filled across the NHS with occupancy rates even higher on some wards.
Experts say a figure of more than 85 per cent increases the risk of the spread of superbugs because cleaners do not have time to clean in and around beds and because patients are crammed too close together.
It can also compromise patient dignity.
Lack of beds is one reason why it has been so hard for hospitals to ensure no one is housed in mixed-sex wards.
The shortage of beds is also blamed for the fact that many elderly patients are moved between hospital wards for no clinical reason increasing the risk to their health. It can also lead to elderly people being sent home too early, meaning they end up being re-admitted to hospital.
Last year, 500,000 patients returned to wards after apparently being discharged too early.
Britain s bed occupancy rate of 83 per cent is far higher than the OECD average of 75 per cent and the 63 per cent rate in the Netherlands. Even the former Communist state of Slovakia manages a rate of 67 per cent.
Our turnover rate the number of cases dealt with by hospitals divided by the number of beds available is the third highest in the Western World at 54 per cent.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: Overcrowding on NHS wards is deeply undignified for patients.
There are instances of wards having occupancy rates of more than 90 per cent which is another reason why the infection rate is so high.
There is pressure to discharge elderly patients before they are ready. Many are being discharged while another patient is sat at the bottom of their bed.
Last night Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: We have seen a 50 per cent increase in the number of emergency readmissions in the ten years from 1998.
From next April, the NHS will have new responsibilities for people s care needs for 30 days after they leave hospital.
Vital helpline run on a shoestring
The helpline that tackles NHS neglect operates out of a cramped room in an annexe of a North London hospital.
With just three staff a manager, an adviser and an unpaid volunteer it struggles to keep up with the flood of calls from angry patients and their relatives.
The hard-pressed Patients Association team has taken 5,000 calls from around the country knowing there is little it can offer apart from advice and support.
The ambitions of the trio are far greater however. Michael Watson, the manager, says they would like to do more to help patients make complaints and then press hospitals for action.
To do that, they need more money.
Mr Watson said: What we want to do is go that extra step. It can be very difficult sometimes when you hear a terrible story which makes you feel desperately sorry for these people. We d like to be able to help everybody but we haven t got the resources.
The problem is that many patients lack the confidence and the encouragement to make a complaint.
To be successful you need to know your way around the system and how to phrase your complaint so it is listened to and acted upon.
It s about chasing up the hospital to ensure they re taking the complaint seriously.
He wants to extend the reach of the helpline by employing more advisers and case workers.
The extra staff would be able to represent patients making cases against hospitals.
At present, their work is limited to advising on issues such as how to change your GP, how to obtain your medical records and how to complain if things go wrong.
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The overcrowded wards of shame Elderly exposed to risk of …