UK Politics

TV nurse Joanna Scanlan's viewpoint on elderly care

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Media captionJoanna Scanlan explains why she condemns care for the elderly

Older patients are not getting the care they deserve according to actor Joanna Scanlan who portrays a nurse on an elderly ward in TV comedy, Getting On, and offers her hard-hitting personal view on the real-life goings on in British hospitals.

Hospitals were told this week to improve care for the elderly. There were stories of patients being left to suffer in pain - afraid, thirsty, in some cases even lying in excrement.

There is a structural failure within the health service and it is causing dramatic, appalling neglect.

Hospital wards are absolutely log-jammed with the elderly. When a patient needs to go into nursing home, the referral process can take three to four months.

In the meantime, the elderly are languishing on hospital wards and ward nurses simply do not have the time to act as carers - to check a patient has eaten, to stroke their brow and to make them comfortable.

This isn't deliberate dereliction of duty or lack of humanity. It's a structural problem.

With an aging population, we need a shift in funding within the health service from acute conditions to chronic. Long term nursing of the elderly isn't as dramatic or 'sexy' as areas like cardiology or cancer.

But we need less of the grandiose medical imperative and more bedside manner.

Simple things like saying "hello" or "good morning", treating old people as people - and not just burdensome units clogging up beds - would make a huge difference.

As a society we are becoming less and less interested in our old people.

The pace of modern life has crowded out our respect.

We don't mean to treat the elderly callously but when people need two salaries coming into the home to pay the mortgage, they often don't have the energy or commitment to devote to the elderly relatives. We get dismissive.

I want to see more investment in smart homes - where technology allows easier access to alert other people, open curtains and access to stairs and baths.

That would allow the elderly to stay in their own home for longer and that would be hugely beneficial.

Image caption Joanna Scanlan (left) plays a comedy nurse but thinks what goes on in wards is no laughing matter

Modern living and modern health care are lagging behind the demographics.

The Health ombudsman's call for action this week led to positive noises from the corridors of power.

That is important because if the NHS doesn't catch up, then more and more old people are destined to end their days in indignity and pain.

Joanna Scanlan was a guest on This Week, on Thursday 17 February, BBC One's irreverent and satirical weekly look at the world of politics with Andrew Neil, each Thursday at 2335GMT (Fridays 0005GMT in Wales and N Ireland) or watch online via iPlayer.

Joanna Scanlon also appears in a new series of hospital comedy Getting On, Saturdays 2325GMT, BBC Four. See clips or watch online at the above link. She also appeared in the BBC comedy show The Thick Of It.

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