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NHS: Hospital Patient Maltreatment

Volume 726: debated on Wednesday 16 March 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to ensure prompt action when widespread maltreatment of patients in NHS hospitals is reported.

My Lords, maltreatment of patients in the NHS is totally unacceptable. The Government are determined to tackle this. Patient safety should be at the heart of everything the NHS does. The Care Quality Commission will be conducting unannounced inspections of NHS trusts. We are also seeking to strengthen accountability in the NHS and ensure that patients and their families have a stronger voice.

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Is she aware that, over the past five or six years, I have raised in this House scores of cases of patients receiving appalling treatment in our hospitals? Although every case was properly authenticated, no hospital ever took action, no wrong-doings ever stopped, no culpability was ever admitted and no apology was ever made. Will she ensure that cases raised in this House by your Lordships will be acted upon without waiting years and years for an ombudsman’s report to arrive?

My Lords, I am well aware that the noble Baroness has had a remarkable record in raising these cases and she deserves enormous credit for that. Many of these patients have been very vulnerable and often voiceless. The first thing we have to do, therefore, is to ensure that the systems that are in place are working properly. The first duty falls to the individual NHS organisation to investigate such an incident and take action. It is for the Care Quality Commission to intervene where there are serious concerns, but the ombudsman, in her recent report, makes it very clear that we all have a responsibility here, and it must be our responsibility to make sure that patients are treated with care and compassion at every level of the service.

Does my noble friend agree that what the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, said is very worrying? The Minister said that the Care Quality Commission is making unannounced visits to hospitals. My own hospital had two visits—one to Chase Farm and one to Barnet—just last week. Fortunately, they each received a very good report. That is the only way to ensure that there are no opportunities to hide away any maltreatment that may be going on.

I thank the noble Baroness for calling me her noble friend. She is indeed quite right that unannounced inspections should surely help, though if you read the ombudsman’s reports, what is so striking is the lack of empathy for patients. Clearly, a culture change is required among those who are meting out poor care where that is the case. There is much very good care, but there is clearly a lot of poor care, and we must do everything we can at every level to try to change that.

My Lords, perhaps I may raise a more institutional issue about the hospital service. How many elderly and disabled people are languishing in hospital beds because there is no alternative—an alternative either in good residential care with or without nursing or in their own homes with a care package? I understand from a report I heard recently that there are hundreds of old people who could be moved on. It is when they languish in those beds that this kind of poor care develops, and I, like the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, have anecdotally heard of people who say, “Just don’t get old these days”.

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. It is clearly in everyone’s interests, especially in this House, to make sure that older people are treated with care and consideration. One thing that comes through from the ombudsman’s report is that this does not apply simply to people who are stuck in hospital, although that is greatly to be regretted and we want to ensure that that does not happen. People in the hospital setting for routine care also are not treated very well. We have to ensure that for whatever reason a person is in hospital they are treated with care and compassion.

My Lords, the Minister will have been shocked, as were many of us, by the report from Ann Abraham, the health ombudsman, which reported on some very severe cases of maltreatment in the NHS. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, said, this sort of maltreatment has been going on for many years in the NHS. Is not fundamental change needed in terms of quality, standards, culture, complaints, inspection and reporting? Can the Minister explain how the new NHS reforms will address these?

I thank the noble Lord for that question. I would point out that the cases highlighted in that report occurred under the previous Administration. But I would not make a party political point here. It is something which we all have to address and we have to ensure that, as we change the NHS, we build in far better ways to ensure that the voices of patients and their families are heard.

There will be the new healthwatch organisations at the local level and the national level. Those organisations will report their concerns to the national board, which will talk to the CQC and advise the Secretary of State. We are hoping to put in place far greater accountability and there will be more local accountability. This is something which we all have to tackle. I note that the Royal College of Nursing has responded positively to this. But the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons have not yet responded.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, and I have talked about the malnourishment of elderly people. Age UK and Mencap have expressed concern about this issue. It will cost more if people who can no longer cope are taken into hospital because they do not have decent food. Will the Government monitor the results of cuts in the provision of meals to the elderly, the vulnerable and the disabled in the coming years following the cuts that local councils are having to make?

I should point out to the noble Baroness that the previous Government put in place arrangements to improve nutrition and to try to cut dehydration. That has not tackled this problem. I do not think that this is a problem of funding; I think it is a problem of culture.