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(Photo credit: robert.harwig)

You could be forgiven for thinking that hospitals would welcome sick people but this is not always the case, especially  if you are elderly!

Luckily their is some light on the horizon with these issues being exposed, discussed and focussed on – results might still be patchy but let us hope compassion returns to our hospitals for this group of patients.

5 reasons the elderly are not welcome

A quick scan of the internet reveals that hospital’s view elderly patients as

  1. costing more than most – as they stay too long and have complex problems,
  2. ‘clogging’ up or ‘blocking’ available beds (presumable for those who need the bed more),
  3. requiring too much care
  4. contributing to ‘excess waiting lists
  5. threatening the existence of hospitals

The results of all of this is that elderly patients are not always being treated with dignity when they are in hospital. This is despite the reality that they are there to treat the sick and the majority of their patients are likely to be elderly.

Not welcome but in need

Elderly patients make up the majority of patients in our medical wards (One report found that the average age of patients in one hospitals medical wards was 82, while another 10% were over 90).

In Australia in 2002-03 the over 65 year olds made up

34% of admissions and 48% of  ‘bed days’ (Age-friendly principles and practices, 2005, p3)

These fact is not likely to change as our population ages. It is a sad state when

hospital managers and staff either don’t see, or don’t accept, that their core business is caring for older people (Kings Fund)

Warned hospitals are unsafe – stay away

It is a ludicrous situation we find ourselves in when it is deemed unsafe for elderly people to go into hospitals.

Who says they are not healthy places for the elderly – no less an authority than the head of the UK National Health System “Hospitals are a very bad places for the elderly”

Future horizons

Luckily there is some commonsense entering into the debate but alas it is not being discussed loudly enough nor are things changing quickly enough.

In the UK the Govt announced the expansion of a program that is designed to re-introduce compassion and transform the culture in health care. While other work is being done on how hospitals ‘deal’ with elderly by looking deeply at their journey into ED and how they ‘flow’ through the system to eliminate unintended delays and hardships.

In Australia we have our own ‘Age Friendly Principles’ which should guide service.

We will be watching these programs, and others, with interest to see what difference it will make in the care and management of elderly people in hospitals.

The Kings Fund in the UK – The future is here: improving urgent care for frail older people

Schwartz Centre  – http://www.theschwartzcenter.org/