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The NHS is failing to respond to the needs of older people with compassion and to provide even the most basic standards of care for this group of patients, the health service ombudsman has warned in a damning report.
Ann Abraham said a series of failures had been revealed in 10 often "harrowing" complaints she investigated relating to the care of patients in England aged over 65 years old.
She warned that the cases - detailing the neglect of the "most basic" of human needs - were not isolated and the NHS needed to undergo an "urgent" widespread change in attitude towards older people.
In her report, Ms Abraham said the complaints about NHS trusts in England and two GP practices had revealed failures to provide the most "fundamental'' aspects of care such as clean and comfortable surroundings, help with eating, drinking water provision and the ability to call someone who will respond.
There were also failures in pain control, discharge arrangements and communication with patients and their relatives, the report found.
Half the people in the report did not consume adequate food or water during their time in hospital, she said, and the cases showed instances of older people unwashed and left in soiled or dirty clothes.
Mrs Abrahams added:
"In one case, a lady known as Mrs. R was Admitted to Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust after being diagnosed with dementia. She was suffering worsening mobility, recurrent falling and confusion.
"Her daughter complained that staff didn't offer her a bath or shower during her 13-week admission.
"She also said her mother was not offered help to eat, even though she was unable to do it herself. Her family were concerned that she would not receive food or drink unless they helped her. Furthermore, she suffered nine falls in hospital but only one was recorded in nursing records.
"Underlying such acts of carelessness and neglect is a casual indifference to the dignity and welfare of older patients. That this should happen anywhere must cause concern - that it should take place in a setting intended to deliver care is indefensible".