This blog was contributed by Dianne Jeffrey, Chairman of Age UK.
Dignity Action Day was a great opportunity to raise awareness of people’s rights to dignity in care.
Dignity in care is an important and widely discussed concept, but it is often hard to pin down its exact meaning.
To me, dignity is about treating people in care with respect and courtesy – treating them the way they want to be treated.
It means healthcare professionals must recognise both the physical elements of care – access to food and drink, maintaining good hygiene and clean surroundings – and the emotional. Staff should talk and listen to those receiving care, as well as their families, friends and carers, and meet their emotional needs.
There is also an onus on staff to challenge bad practice, report it where appropriate and learn as a team from mistakes.
Why we need to take action
Of course, no one should doubt that there are many examples of excellent, dignified practice being delivered across the country.
Working in the health and care sector for a number of years, I met many dedicated staff who always treated their patients with the utmost compassion. They left no stone unturned to make sure they delivered the best care.
Yet sadly, this is not always the case. Many of us will have heard of terrible stories in our local care homes and hospitals, where people are not treated with the sense of dignity and respect they deserve.
Last summer, a deeply worrying report came out showing poor standards of dignity and help with eating in hospitals were a “significant problem” affecting the “vast majority” of English NHS Hospital Trusts.
Published by the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the LSE, it showed that around 2.8 million people annually experienced poor or inconsistent standards of dignity, of whom 1 million were over 65.
Risks were also higher for those with a long standing illness or disability or those who had been in hospital for a long period of time. This is particularly concerning as it showed the most vulnerable were the most at risk
Although more recent survey results show the NHS has seen an improvement in the headline figures of people saying they were treated with dignity, there is still a long way to go. Even one instance of indignity should alarm us, let alone numerous occurrences from across the country.
Steps to take
Looking forward, the LSE report suggested ways in which the situation can be improved.
It rightly called for a renewed focus on implementing and enforcing the fundamental standards concerning dignity that were introduced in the wake of the Francis Inquiry into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.
To help the most vulnerable, it stated that in hospitals where poor care is a concern, high risk patients – like those over 80 or with multiple co-morbidities – should be monitored separately.
Reflecting back on my work on dignity, in 2012 I had the privilege of chairing the Dignity in Care Commission established by Age UK, the Local Government Association and the NHS Confederation. We published a report, Delivering Dignity, to help the health and care sectors find solutions to poor and undignified care towards older people.
Our report recommended ‘always events’, indelible actions which should be considered as basic rules for the delivery of dignified care in every hospital and care home.
If this sounds a bit theoretical, we went on to outline 37 clear recommendations that could be taken by people at every level from front line staff to board members and governors.
One of our main points was that staff must work with older people to personalise their care, and they must constantly listen to patients and their families and carers to learn from their feedback and improve practice.
I would urge everyone with an interest in care to read and support the changes we set out in this report. While it came out a few years ago, as long as we continue to hear and read stories of bad care, it will remain relevant.
Dignity always important
Dignity Action Day is vital in raising awareness of rights to dignity in care.
However, dignity is an issue which transcends just one day; it is an issue which everyone who delivers care should be thinking about and acting upon constantly.
I know first-hand of healthcare professionals who do work tirelessly to deliver compassionate and dignified care.
Yet until this becomes commonplace, we still have work to do.
Turning this situation around should be top priority to ensure undignified care – and all the horror tales that come with it – are confined to history.