Tom Mackenzie: Ashamed by the 'care' we give elderly
I have not written about anything that causes me so much pain as this article does.
This is because as a Briton, proud of what my country has achieved down the ages, I am ashamed of the shocking scandal unfolding in what was meant to be our pride and joy, the NHS.
Nothing in my experience begins to compare with the sheer magnitude of it all; the needless deaths, through wanton neglect, of almost certainly thousands of people in our hospitals.
Fish rot from the head and any man – and we speak of Sir David Nicholson – who believed that the totalitarian system that was once the USSR was a good thing should never have been put in charge of such an organisation as the NHS.
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Apparently, his hero was the gruesome Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev. It shocked me how readily and swiftly the PM and Heath Secretary sprang to his defence. Perhaps it was because Nicholson had a reputation, when ordered to do things, of carrying out those orders.
That may be so, but the consequences, as whistleblowers made Nicholson aware of, was an unfolding disaster of epic proportions. But orders are orders and Nicholson ploughed on, heedless of the human misery he was unleashing.
In order to achieve his purpose and and keep to his 'good' name as a man who could be relied on to deliver, a climate of fear was created throughout the NHS. How very USSR like.
I will not detail the horror stories which have emerged: you are all familiar with them. But instead of being reassured, looked after and returned to health, where possible, people died in their hundreds, indeed – across the NHS – in their thousands.
A single hospital stands accused of up to 1200 deaths. We all remember the unconscionable time we often waited for routine operations and A & E. The last government decided to do something about it.
Everything was done with the best of intentions, but as we all know the road to hell can often be paved with good intentions.
When it became apparent that their action plan was not working out another well known maxim kicked in; the law of unintended consequences.
At that point they should have paused and taken stock. But they did not.
So what has become of us that we have failed in almost the most fundamental of all our duties, the care of our old?
When our troops burst in on Belson concentration camp they found a level of horror – of mans' inhumanity to man – not known in the whole of human experience. We put the perpetrators on trial and hanged them.
At their trial they pleaded that they were obeying orders. What they did not plead – though they might have done – was that they had been conditioned for years to see their victims not as human beings, but as vermin, a sub-species not worthy of using up precious resources.
I fear that when our old people – be they in care homes or hospitals – fall into frailty, incontinence or dementia something of a similar attitude takes hold, in disquieting numbers, of those charged with looking after them.
In their case they do not even have the excuse of saying that their government had told them their charges were worthless.
So, what is it that allows lethal, criminal neglect, which were it directed at a child or even a dog would send us into paroxysms of fury ending in stiff gaol sentences, but does not do so with our old and helpless? I truly do not understand it!
What is incredible is that the unfeeling Apparatchik who precided over it all was not only NOT held to account, but promoted to the top job in the NHS. How very public sector-like. He – would you believe – is judged to be the best person to sort it all out.
The Francis Report into the failings of the Mid Staffordshire Hospital Trust wanted to name names, but using, as ever, our money – just like the BBC – the 'fingered' individuals engaged the sharpest, most expensive lawyers in the business to threaten Pearson with law suits. He buckled.
It all thereafter, magically, became the fault of the 'system'. Nothing, said the chastened Francis, was to be gained by 'Scapegoating'.
Sorry Mr. Francis, but PEOPLE did this thing and people must answer.
Start with David Nicholson and move down to ward level. It cannot be too strongly emphasised that the whole farrago involves multiple, pitiless deaths which on a head count makes Harold Shipman look like small beer.
What distinguishes our species from every other in the animal kingdom is our sense of dignity.
From the moment we get up in the morning to the moment we go to bed we carefully nurture the image of how we wish the world to perceive us. Take that away and you have inflicted the cruelest of hurts possible.
In being careless of peoples' nakedness and putting an adult nappy on because it is too much trouble to help someone to the toilet is unforgivable: to leave them in soiled, soaking bed sheets covered in their own dried excrement beyond any words that I can come up with. To reach for water and food which is beyond reach totally criminal.
Death is the single most difficult event that any of us will have to handle. To meet it lonely; in squalor, neglect and suffering over a protracted period, with all dignity stripped away is impossible to equate with a civilised society. In my view we are all guilty; every last one of us, just as the entire German nation was guilty of the Holocaust.
In both cases we allowed it to happen on our watch. We strut the world stage fixated on our favourite hobby horse, Human Rights, lecturing anyone unfortunate enough to cross our path with the virtues of compassion yet we show nothing of it on too many of our wards. Shouldn't Charity begin at home?
Those charged with looking after the fathers and mothers who fought two World Wars for us and who with their sacrifices in the years following brought us social security and prosperity have a sacred duty to perform. They should remember that they were not always the sad, helpless individual they see before them, but once vibrant men and women who held down jobs and brought up children. If it would help them to understand this let a photo be affixed to the head of every bed to show their carers how they looked in their glory days and let a caption tell the story of who they were and what they did.
Follow Tom Mackenzie on Twitter @lastfoundling.com