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Elderly 'let down by health service'

PUBLISHED: 11:48 09 October 2009 | UPDATED: 14:35 06 July 2010

Older people are being let down by health services, a senior NHS manager has admitted.

Older people are being let down by health services, a senior NHS manager has admitted.

Hospitals which do not do enough to meet the needs of people with dementia, an organisational structure which does not always look at older people's issues as a whole and a reluctance to listen to experts at charities like Age Concern were some of the problems spelled out at a meeting yesterday.

And representatives of Age Concern Norwich called on the local NHS to listen to them and hear what older people's needs are.

Sylvia Morley, health improvement principal in mental health for NHS Norfolk, was addressing Age Concern Norwich's annual meeting.

She said that NHS managers were sometimes reluctant to talk to charities who also provide services paid for by the NHS, fearing there might be a conflict of interest.

Maggie Wheeler, a trustee of Age Concern Norwich who is also chairman of Norfolk's mental health trust, said: “People should understand the expertise we have in understanding older people's needs. I think we should be able to talk to each other without a wall going up.”

Age Concern Norwich chief executive Phil Wells said there should be more communication between the NHS and all other healthcare providers, but especially charities.

He said: “We have been trying for the last year to make our voice heard with NHS Norfolk”, adding that he had been trying to get a meeting with one assistant director for four months.

He said: “To put us in the same bracket as private providers is worrying. We are not only going to do what we are paid to do, we are not out to make as much profit as we can.

“We are here because there is need, not because there is money. If the PCT does not recognise that, then we have got a really big hill to climb.”

Deciding which services are needed for the elderly, and who will provide them, is mostly led by NHS Norfolk's programme boards, such as those for mental health and long term conditions.

Ms Morley, who is leaving her post in three weeks, said: “Many older people's issues cover several or all of these boards. A lot of older people's issues are falling between the boards, or they are not taken across the boards - so that is an area to work on.”

She also quoted the minutes of the mental health programme board from September 8, which said it was “not appropriate for third sector organisations to attend programme boards”. The minutes say that they should attend the less high-powered “locality forums” instead.

She said: “I think third sector organisations, including yourselves, need to put pressure on them to say, where is the forum, how often do they meet?”

Ms Morley also said that hospitals “don't provide for someone with dementia”.

She said: “If you speak to someone who works in an acute hospital they will say it is very stressful on the elderly wards. They haven't been trained to deal with it. It is not possible to put people in secure wards without them being sectioned.

“People arrive there, there is little understanding. Even the family may be in denial that they have dementia. There is a whole training issue there.”

But a spokesman for the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital said there is specialist help for those with dementia.

She said: “We have long recognised the importance of the care of patients with dementia here.

“Working with Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health we have a specialist mental health liaison nurse, who assesses patients with dementia when they are admitted to our medicine for the elderly wards. This nurse also trains other staff within the hospital on how to manage the care with patients as well as providing families with information about support in the community for when their relative leaves hospital.”

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