Campaigners call for Dignity Code

NHS nurses and care workers should sign up to a code of conduct guaranteeing that elderly patients are treated with dignity and respect, according to an alliance of politicians, regulators and charities.

Pensioners are being spoken down to, prevented from taking decisions, and denied privacy and the best medical treatment.

The call for a new Dignity Code came in a letter to The Daily Telegraph signed by care minister Paul Burstow and his Labour shadow Liz Kendall, as well as charities, trade unions and academics. It urged hospitals, care homes and other institutions to agree a set of common standards of care for the first time to prevent cases of abuse and neglect.

Care workers could eventually have the guidelines – drawn up by the National Pensioners’ Convention, which represents elderly groups – written into their contracts.

“For too long, too many of those people have been ignored, denied the basic right to speak for themselves or make up their own mind,” the letter warned. “In this era of human rights, too many older people have seen their basic human dignity undermined in situations where they are treated as objects rather than people.”

The move follows a series of scandals involving the abuse of the elderly and disabled and comes at a time when funding of elderly care is under unprecedented scrutiny. Around 400,000 people in England live in care homes while more than two million older people need care in some form.

Earlier this month, a committee of MPs warned that frail elderly people were being “passed like parcels” between different agencies in a fragmented and chaotic care system.

The letter, signed by 21 public figures including the heads of Age UK, the Royal College of Nursing, the TUC and the care regulator, the Care Quality Commission, demands an end to everyday practices which diminish the dignity of older people.

“In extreme cases, there have been instances of abuse and neglect, but there are many examples of older people being spoken about as if they were not there, deprived of basic privacy or denied respect for their hygiene or personal appearance,” it said.

The code calls on nurses and carers always to obtain consent for treatments and demands that elderly people be allowed to “speak for themselves” – either directly or through a friend or relation. It also says that older people should usually be addressed formally, rather than by their first name.