Latest horrific report on NHS standards must give UK pause for thought about its socialist medical system

An independent health watchdog has found that more than half of NHS hospitals fail to meet optimum needs in care of the elderly: A fifth are so bad they’re breaking the law

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The Commentator
On 13 October 2011 08:17

Yet another report has found appalling shortcomings in the standards of care provided by Britain’s National Health Service.

On Thursday, the Care Quality Commission – an independent health and social care watchdog – released the findings of a study of standards in the treatment of the elderly in 100 British hospitals.

Specifically, the investigation focused on whether “essential standards of dignity and nutrition were being met”.

That means they were seeking to establish things like the extent to which grannie and grandpa are properly fed and taken to the toilet.

The results are shocking (though, sadly, not surprising).

Out of 100 hospitals assessed for providing dignity and nutrition, “35 met both standards but still needed to make improvements in one or both…20 hospitals did not meet one or both standards – with major concerns identified in two cases”.

To illustrate the point, those concerns, the watchdog said, included, “a person who had been incontinent remaining unwashed for an hour and a half, despite asking staff for help.”

In terms of dignity, the more general issues related to:

Call bells put out of people’s reach or not responded to in a reasonable time

Staff speaking to people in a condescending or dismissive way

Curtains not properly closed when personal care was given to people in bed

Comments from patients and staff that there were not enough staff with the right training on duty to spend time giving care

In terms of nutrition, the general issues related to:

People not given the help they needed to eat, meaning they struggled to eat or were physically unable to eat meals

People interrupted during meals and having to leave their food unfinished

People’s needs not assessed properly, which meant they didn’t always get the care they needed – for example, specialist diets

Records of food and drink not kept accurately so progress was not monitored

Patients not able to clean their hands before meals

“It was clear that in some hospitals unacceptable care had been allowed to become the norm,” the report concluded.

But why would anyone really be surprised? In May, the same watchdog group reported similar findings.

As we noted in an editorial at the time, that report found that “at the Royal Free Hospital in London call bells are often out of the reach of patients, and sometimes aren’t answered anyway; at the Ipswich hospital patients have to use commodes by the sides of their beds because nurses are too busy to take them to the toilet; at the Alexandra Hospital in Worcestershire elderly patients had their food left out of reach, resulting in hunger; in the same hospital doctors frequently had to make out prescriptions for water because nurses were forgetting to provide sufficient fluids; (according to the Daily Mail 816 patients died in hospital in 2009 from dehydration).”

Not surprisingly, Britain performs poorly when the general health standards it provides are compared with other Western countries.

Heart attack survival rates are higher even in Poland, while five year survival rates for several types of cancers in some other post-communist countries are better than in Britain.

In another editorial in May, we noted that “of the 27 countries defined by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development as having started on the path to transition from communism in the early 1990s, not a single one chose the British model when deciding on their new health system”.

They didn’t shun the NHS because they had some sort of agenda against it.

They shunned it because cool-headed, sober analysis showed that it was an inferior system when compared to other (often insurance based) models on the continent where the private sector plays a far great role.

Alas, Britons are not likely to hear much in the way of discussion on such lines, even as the newspapers and television stations spend the rest of the week wringing their hands in disgust.

It’s a kind of British ritual: a report comes out revealing horror stories affecting large swathes of the country’s health system; the media goes ballistic; and then nobody draws the obvious conclusion.

And the obvious conclusion is that the system itself is not fit for purpose. Socialism in healthcare is as hopelessly poor a provider of good quality services as it is in every other sector.

The inescapable fact is that in 1948 Britain made a historic mistake in establishing the NHS, and the country needs a mature debate about how it is to be replaced.

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