Elderly face ‘institutional ageism’

Britain’s care system for elderly people is blighted by “institutional ageism”, the care minister said last night.

Paul Burstow promised to introduce a national standard of training for care workers after a coalition of politicians, charities and unions warned that elderly people were too often being treated as “objects”.

Mr Burstow was speaking at the launch of a code of conduct for care workers and nurses which calls for patients to be treated with dignity and respect.

Politicians on both sides of the Commons, the Royal College of Nursing, the TUC, and charities including Age UK are among supporters of the Dignity Code drawn up by the National Pensioners’ Convention.

It calls on nurses and carers to obtain consent for treatments and it demands that elderly people are allowed to “speak for themselves” either directly or, in cases where this is no longer possible, through a friend or relation. It also requires carers to address older people formally rather than by their first name, unless they are invited to do otherwise. Supporters hope the new code will be written into their contracts.

He said: “We have to make sure there are clear training standards for our health care assistants, our care assistants. There are none at the moment.

“And we have to make sure that there is a clear code of conduct for how they should behave.

“We have to challenge institutional ageism in our health care system and our social care system.”

Earlier, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the care regulator, said that inspectors will be sent into care homes to check whether basic standards are being maintained.

A similar programme of inspections in the National Health Service last year found that almost half of hospitals were failing to feed elderly patients properly and dignity was lacking in care at 40 per cent.

Dame Jo Williams, chairman of the CQC, said: “The CQC cannot stress enough the importance of respecting and involving people who use services and the critical issues around safeguarding.

“Our NHS Dignity and Nutrition Inspection Programme looked specifically at whether the essential standards of dignity and nutrition were being met on wards caring for older people and we will be launching an inspection programme looking at the same issues in social care shortly.”

Speaking in London tomorrow Liz Kendall, Mr Burstow’s Labour shadow, will call for a shift in the care service with more people being treated in the community rather than hospitals. “Fewer older people are getting the care they need,” she will say. “More are ending up having to go into hospital, or getting stuck in hospital or more expensive residential care when they don’t need to.”

Speaking at the launch in the Commons last night, Mr Burstow said the document would be a “starting point” for a legally enforceable code of conduct for the care sector.