Doctors 'acting like vets with dementia patients': Damning report reveals communication failure of medical staff
Some doctors believe sufferers 'don't suffer pain in the same way'Nurse found by researchers reprimanding elderly dementia sufferer for losing more weight
Doctors and nurses caring for dementia patients often ‘make it up as they go along’ because they have no idea how to treat them, a study has revealed.
The shaming research lifts the lid on attitudes to dealing with vulnerable patients and reports a series of disturbing admissions about how little regard some health professionals have for those suffering in later life.
One consultant admitted to using a ‘veterinary approach’ towards the sick.
Shaming: The report on dementia care exposes doctors' attitudes to the elderly and is based on lengthy interviews with medics in Nottingham (picture posed by models)
Another said dementia patients are ‘hugely sapping of our scarce resources’ as ‘they can’t do anything for themselves’.
Others have disclosed that, although many of their patients have dementia, they have not ‘ever, ever had any teaching’ in how to properly look after them.
Some even believed that people with dementia do not suffer pain in the same way as those without the condition.
The candid admissions have been made to academics undertaking an extensive study on attitudes of hospital staff towards the elderly with dementia.
On one occasion, researchers watched in horror as an old man was reduced to tears by a nurse who reprimanded him for losing too much weight.
Over the past three years, Professor John Gladman and his colleagues at Nottingham University have carried out lengthy interviews with 60 doctors, nurses and other staff at the Queen’s Medical Centre and Nottingham City Hospital.
Their findings have been presented to the authors of a major joint report to be published tomorrow by the NHS Confederation, Age UK and the Local Government Association.
It will demand that patients are treated with respect, in line with the Mail’s Dignity for the Elderly campaign.
One consultant admitted during an interview: ‘Sometimes you’re more veterinary in your approach.
‘And then you perhaps may not be treating them in the same way as someone else that you can talk to.’
In another of the interviews – which each lasted 40 minutes – a consultant said that dementia patients ‘can’t do anything for themselves. They won’t feed themselves, they can’t get out of bed themselves, you can’t be sure they’re drinking, they’re often incontinent.
‘The more of that patient group you have, the less care the others are going to get. They are hugely sapping of our scarce resources.’
The researchers, who began their study in 2008 and will publish it in full later this year, also made detailed notes on how patients were being looked after on wards.
On one occasion, they saw an elderly man with dementia in tears being ‘reprimanded’ by a nurse for losing more weight.
The researchers wrote: ‘He is agitated and frightened, crying with tears down his face.
‘Not one member of staff offers any comfort or reassurance. The staff nurse tuts and reprimands him for losing more weight.’
They also interviewed a young woman whose grandmother was in hospital, who said: ‘We were told by the doctor that people with dementia don’t feel pain as much as somebody who hasn’t got dementia.’
Professor Gladman, who specialises in care of the elderly, said most of the staff had not been trained to look after dementia sufferers and often ‘make it up as they go along’.
But he added that figures show half of patients in hospital over the age of 70 have dementia and half of those who fracture their hip have the illness.
Care: Doctors often simply 'make it up as they go along' – and one doctor admitted taking a 'veterinary approach' towards the sick (picture posed by model)
‘Some people said they had never had any training at all,’ said Professor Gladman. ‘People said they knew the causes of dementia – they could tell you microscopic changes that happen to patients – but they didn’t know what to do. They sort of make it up as they go along.’
He added: ‘The only people who said they were confident had not had training but had experience elsewhere – [they had] worked in a care home or looked after their own parents or grandparents.’
Although the study involved staff in only two hospitals in Nottingham, Professor Gladman said he believes the problems they identified exist across the NHS.
He said that although increasing numbers of patients going to hospital would have dementia in the future – because of the UK’s ageing population – the NHS ‘hasn’t really got to grips with the problem’. ‘The system isn’t prepared for the job it’s got to do,’ he said.
The Mail has consistently called for an improvement in the treatment of older patients as part of our Dignity for the Elderly campaign.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘It brings shame on the NHS that a consultant can say, in the course of this research, that he avoids talking to dementia patients.
‘Dementia patients need to be treated with dignity and respect.
‘But people contacting us tell us about dementia patients that are being ignored by clinicians, and who they feel are being treated as second-class citizens.
‘It brings shame on our society that so many elderly people, with and without dementia, are treated so poorly in our hospitals.’