Why are elderly people too frightened to complain about hospital treatment?

Elderly people are suffering in hospital but are too afraid to complain about how they are treated. Sadly, this is a common theme in medical negligence and we welcome the comments made in the press recently by the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman – Dame Julie Mellor – who has stressed the urgent need for changes in the NHS’s attitude towards complaints. She has also said that procedures must be improved in order to support people who wish to make a complaint.


Making a complaint must be simple and transparent

The complaints procedure at present can be a daunting process – especially for an elderly person who may have multiple health needs; even more so if they don’t have a family or advocate to help them voice their concerns to an, often, defensive, NHS. When, as a last resort, people turn to the Ombudsman, in addition to specific medical complaints about misdiagnosis, the tales they tell are of lack of communication with patients and their families, of not being treated with dignity and of substandard nutrition.


Fear of repercussions

As medical negligence solicitors. we commonly hear appalling stories of elderly patients whose basic needs have not been met. People whose pleas for help with personal hygiene are ignored; patients suffering dehydration (and the confusion that goes with it) or of elderly men and women going hungry because they need help with eating or drinking and there is no-one available. Yet, it is reported that a quarter of older people don’t know how to complain. Others (and their families) fear that, if they do, there will be repercussions. We also hear of short-staffing levels putting extreme pressure on nursing staff, leaving them without the time to attend to the non-medical care needs of their patients.


We must give a voice to the vulnerable in society

It has been said that the measure of a civilized society is the way in which it treats its poor and vulnerable members. If, as Dame Julie fears, we are just seeing the “tip of the iceberg” with regard to serious failings in the hospital care of the over 65’s, this is a sad indictment indeed. A lack of attention to basic care for the elderly is something we should not tolerate as a society, both because of the immediate suffering it causes and because they may have to endure further medical treatment to deal with the consequences.


A change in attitude from the NHS towards complaints by the NHS is vital if standards of care are to improve.


Click on the links for the recent articles in The Telegraph and The Daily Mail which highlighted this subject.


If you or a loved one have suffered as a result of inadequate nursing care or have had to deal with the consequences of a misdiagnosis, please call us on freephone 0808 115 6189 or email us to see if we can help. You will also find useful information on ageism in the health service and social care at Age UK.


See here for a selection of case studies.


Posted 16th May 2014 | Posted in News,Uncategorised