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OVER 70 - OVER ANDOUT?

03-04-2007

Lynn Hawthorne on a distressing case of NHS negligence towards a local "character" in Wednesbury. Does the Health Service sideline the elderly?

I've just heard of the sad case of an elderly gentleman - a local chap named Jim - who has been failed by the NHS.

Jim was a decent bloke. He had a wicked sense of humour and used to ‘chat up' all the ladies in shops, with a twinkle in his eye.

The assistants would come out from behind their counters to help him and generally keep an eye on his welfare. When a death notice was spotted in the local paper, the word went round and there was genuine sadness when his demise was confirmed.

But sadness gave way to disgust and even anger when the details of his death emerged.

The gentleman had a history of health problems, including chest-related issues requiring regular medication that was delivered to his door. He used a mobility scooter to get about, which as well as turning him into a bit of a speed demon at times, clearly indicated that his health was declining.

One day, he had a fall in his flat. It took him a considerable time to get himself up again and he felt quite unwell, so he ‘phoned his GP. The doctor refused to come out to him and told him to go to the chemists.

Asking around, it appears that this particular GP refuses to make any house calls at all, even during the day, so the change in arrangements around out-of-hours calls has had no effect on his practice.

Now this poor man, in obvious discomfort, took his doctor's lack of concern as meaning there was nothing to worry about and got himself off to the shops. Everyone who knew him told him how awful he looked and tried to persuade him to seek medical attention. Eventually, he did and found that he had broken his hip, for which an operation was necessary.

He never made it through the operation and died on Saturday.

Ok, you can argue that he should have called an ambulance, but men of his generation - the war generation - were bought up to not make a fuss and to grin and bear it. He did seek medical attention, but his GP had dismissed him.

According to the Department of Health, there are no guidelines on the obligations of doctors towards patients over 70, except that they are NOT OBLIGED to make a home visit.

The GP is required to used his/her ‘discretion' and make a clinical judgement based on the patient's case history. In this case, it was a poor decision.

But people aged over 70 are our most vulnerable demographic group. They have complex health needs, take regular medication and develop mobility and confidence problems.

They often spend long periods of time alone and not all of them have family members willing and able to participate in their care. Surely they need rather more medical support than they're getting?

Take an elderly lady I know, aged 72, for example. Last year, she spent four weeks in hospital after suffering a series of mild strokes and pneumonia. She has a history of high blood pressure and vertigo and is deaf in one ear.

Yet on her release from hospital, there was no medical care plan put in place and relatives have had to fight for occupational health assessments, professional carer visits and for district nurse visits to keep an eye on her blood pressure.

They have struggled to even get her GP interested in her after-care. Not that there was a fat lot of before-care. When these relatives went to see him with concerns over her health and that of her 98 year-old mother, the GP said he couldn't get involved because it would be seen as ‘interfering'. If they had concerns, they would have to see him themselves.

While they were in his consulting room, she was collapsing to the floor at home and losing consciousness.

So what is magical about the age of 70? Are our elderly people written off as being ‘unviable'? Is it not worth it to come and see them, because they're dying anyway? Is it all about cost or is it about apathy?

I thought the NHS was designed to care for those unable to care for themselves, but I am disappointed. For Jim, the NHS failed to give him the advice and care he needed when he needed it most.

It is upsetting to see a life extinguished in this way and the people of my town are saddened. May he rest in peace and the doctors sleep at night.

Are these isolated cases? Or typical of the modern NHS? Leave a comment in the Miscellaneous section of our messageboard.

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