Sarah Rochira, Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, talks about making sure older people receive the best possible care.
As the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, I meet regularly with many older people who tell me about the excellent care and support they have received in the NHS and the difference this has made to their lives, often at times of particular vulnerability. At its best, healthcare in Wales is outstanding, delivered by truly dedicated and compassionate staff.
But I also meet with, and I am regularly contacted by, people who tell me about NHS care that falls far below the standard we all have a right to expect, care that strips people of their dignity and is, quite simply, unacceptable.
With older people now the main users of health and social care services in Wales, and with the number of older people in Wales continuing to grow, set to reach one million within the next 20 years, it is essential that the NHS in Wales provides services that not only meet their needs, but are also delivered in a caring and compassionate way.
A number of reports published in recent years, including my own ‘Dignified Care?’ Review report and, most recently, ‘Trusted to Care’, which followed a review of care at two hospitals in Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, have highlighted the ways that failures, often in the delivery of the most basic care have violated both the safety and dignity of older people, something that often has a devastating impact on their lives.
Whilst ‘Trusted to Care’ specifically reviewed two hospitals, I welcome the fact that Health Boards across Wales have acknowledged that they can all learn lessons from the findings of the report. It is essential that the intent behind all of the recommendations in ‘Trusted to Care’ is achieved across Wales to ensure the highest standards of care and deliver improved outcomes for older people.
It is clear that there is a wide range of action underway to improve patient care across Wales. However, it is essential that the pace of change increases to ensure that there is a zero tolerance approach to failures in care and that the patient experience is used more effectively to support learning and improvements at all levels, from the hospital ward to board level. Those who run our health services must recognise and understand that the cost of failure is never paid by the service or the system, it is instead paid by the individual and is often far too great.
The difference that compassionate care can make in every setting within the NHS in Wales is immeasurable, but this fundamental aspect of care is all too often missing. Older people don’t talk about targets, systems, budgets or services, they talk about the things that often make a real difference – care, kindness and love.
Wherever older people live and whichever NHS service they access, they should receive the highest standards of care, vital to achieve the best possible outcomes. A culture of continuous learning and improvement must therefore be embedded across the NHS in Wales, with dignity, respect, kindness and compassion at the heart of NHS care.