The elderly are just a nuisance in socialized medicine

Best if they get a bug and die. Excerpts below of a report from the U.K.

Barbara Yeo died in March last year, and time has not yet been able to diminish for Harriet the distressing, haunting images of her mother as she lay breathless and in pain in her hospital bed. An 83-year-old former hospital matron who, in her working life, specialised in care of the elderly, Barbara had not been in the peak of health, but nor was she terminally ill. And yet her own admission to hospital for routine treatment of leg ulcers was to prove fatal. Barbara died of viral gastroenteritis - a stomach bug that she contracted from a highly infectious patient who was placed next to her on the ward. As her condition rapidly deteriorated, the acronym DNR - for Do Not Resuscitate - was placed on her notes.

'I told the doctor that that would be going against her wishes. Because she was a nurse, it was a conversation we had had many times. But they did it anyway. They treated the age, not the patient, and it cost my mother her life,' says Harriet.

The story of Barbara's demise is one that will resonate with many. We are living longer and, consequently, more likely to become frail and vulnerable through age. Two thirds of patients in hospital wards are over 65. Most of those who have had to care for an elderly and sick relative understand that resources are limited. But care, sympathy and dignity shouldn't be, and yet you do not have to canvass hard to find those who, in some way, feel let down by the system.

The problem is that, too often, frustration is swiftly overwhelmed by grief. Rather than kick up a fuss, families find themselves slinking away in bitter resignation. Harriet Yeo, however, is not a slinker. A strident woman who stands six feet tall, she is used to making her presence felt as a councillor in her home town of Ashford, Kent, as a former trades union official, and also as someone who has served on three National Health Trust bodies.

Shortly after her mother died, she was appointed a member of the Labour Party's National Executive Committee - a position that brings her into direct contact with Government ministers. And shortly after that, she found herself launching 'Forgetmenot' - a campaign that will very possibly clash with Party policy but will also, she hopes, give a strong voice to those who feel alone and powerless. 'I'm not saying that all hospital care for the elderly is bad, but a lot of it is,' she says. 'The more I talked to people about what happened to my mother, the more I realised that older people are being discriminated against, not just in my hospital, but all over the country. 'It is too big a problem for any one individual, but by creating a national force, we can be heard. And I am not going to be cowed, because speaking out is the only way I can feel some good might come of my mother's death.' ......

In November 2004, Barbara's GP arranged for her to be admitted to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford with suspected constipation. In fact, tests revealed that there was nothing wrong with her bowels, but doctors did then advise that she undergo intensive treatment on her leg ulcers - painful sores that are usually caused by circulation problems and are common in the elderly.

Barbara was given morphine for pain relief, and from that point, according to Harriet, her condition rapidly deteriorated. She became dehydrated and delusional and remained in pain because, says Harriet 'it was the wrong sort of pain relief for the arthritic pain she had'. Following complaints from Harriet, Barbara was taken off the morphine, and within 48 hours, the delusions had stopped. But her weight appeared to have dropped drastically - although how drastically Harriet cannot be sure because Barbara was not weighed. 'With hindsight, I would have insisted she was weighed on admission, as all elderly patients should be.'

Barbara came home for Christmas, during which time she ate enough to go up two dress sizes, and was re-admitted in January to continue the leg ulcer treatment. As the weeks passed, the ulcers improved, but Harriet was less than impressed with the more general care her mother received. 'She was catheterised as soon as she was admitted, despite being fully continent. Why? Because it is easier, of course, if a nurse doesn't have to attend when she needs to go to the bathroom. But by keeping her still, they were depleting her mobility. 'During two months in hospital, she had her hair washed just once, and that was because we insisted and paid a hairdresser to do it. My mother was a woman who went to the hairdressers every week. Not enabling her to maintain her appearance was an affront to her dignity.'

Barbara died four days after contracting what staff in the hospital were referring to as the 'winter vomiting bug'. When Harriet questioned why an infected patient had been put next to her mother, she says she was told that the consultant and the infection control nurse had deemed it 'an acceptable risk'. The matter is now the subject of a police complaint, and also a complaint that Harriet has lodged with the General Medical Council. Both cases are unlikely to be resolved for many months.

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