New in-depth analysis has revealed that poor or inconsistent standards of dignity and nutrition for older people are widespread in English hospitals.

The report by the London School of Economics (LSE) concludes that the ‘vast majority’ of English NHS acute hospital trusts are affected.

Research by Dr Polly Vizard and Dr Tania Burchardt of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at LSE broke down data in the Adult Inpatient Survey for 2012-13 to provide a fresh detailed picture of older people’s reported experiences during hospital stays.

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s charity director, said: “This new in-depth analysis of older people’s reported experiences shows just how big the challenge is in ensuring every older person in hospital receives the dignity they deserve and help with eating if they require it.

“It must be recognised that the data this research is based on is two years old now and that the newest figures suggest some welcome improvement, especially as regards older people’s experiences of dignity, but this sobering report certainly shows that hospitals need to redouble their efforts.

‘Above all it is really worrying, if perhaps not altogether surprising, that the more vulnerable an older person is, the greater their risk of not being treated as we would all wish for ourselves or our loved ones. Turning this situation around ought to be a top priority and no hospital can afford to be complacent.”

Report co-author Polly Vizard said the findings were “very disturbing”. “What really stands out is not just the large number of patients who say they aren’t always being cared for in a dignified way or helped to eat – but also that there has been remarkably little change in the percentage of individuals reporting inconsistent and poor standards of care over a substantial period time.”

Major findings from the analysis include:

  • 23% of people reported experiencing poor or inconsistent standards of dignity and respect. This is equivalent to 2.8 million people annually, of whom 1 million are aged 65 and over.
  • Of those who did need help eating, more than 1 in 3 patients did not receive enough assistance. This is equivalent to 1.3 million people on an annual basis, of whom 640,000 are aged 65 and over.
  • Amongst older people, poor or inconsistent care was more likely to be experienced by women, and those aged over 80. The risks were also higher for those with a long-standing illness or disability such as deafness or blindness.
  • The quantity and quality of nursing care, and whether or not there was a choice of food, had a large, statistically significant association with the probability of experiencing poor standards of help with eating. These are key policy levers for meeting individual nutritional needs.