ERI care scandal sparks calls for older people’s champion

HEALTH chiefs are today under pressure to reappoint an older people’s champion in the wake of a damning report into elderly care at the ERI.

The creation of the job was one of the key recommendations of a report in 2006, which was sparked by a previous scandal around the hospital care of vulnerable old folk. A year later the post disappeared, but after a highly critical Healthcare Improvement Scotland report into elderly care at the flagship hospital was published last week, calls have been made resurrect the role.

Former Lord Provost Norman Irons was one of the key figures who prompted the 2006 report after he spoke out about the neglect that his mother Anne experienced in her final weeks at the ERI.

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He said: “An older people’s champion should be doing what the inspectors do but on a regular, routine basis in hospitals. They would be grounded in the hospital, talk to elderly people and act as an advocate for them. They would ensure an action plan is implemented and followed through.

“Everybody would draw a picture of the job in a different way but the job description would be three words – older people’s champion.”

Anne Jarvie, who produced the 2006 report, became NHS Lothian’s older people’s champion in May of that year, and visited wards and held regular meetings with senior health chiefs. She stepped down 12 months later, saying she was pleased with the progress that had been made and did not believe the position was necessary.

But following the new report published a week ago, Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald said the job was more vital than it had ever been. She said: “I thought the idea was a good one then and it’s an even better idea now, because the number of older people is rising and greater numbers have no relatives or friends to rely on.”

The report highlighted just four areas of strength and 23 areas for improvement, with inspectors having to step in themselves to ensure patients were fed and that their dignity was preserved.

Lindsay Scott, communications and campaigns manager for Age Scotland, said: “The last one was in for a year and said ‘everything’s fine I don’t need to do this any more’. Well everything is not fine now. When there’s four good things and 23 bad things you’ve got to say there’s something wrong.The idea of an older people’s champion is a good one but it’s got to be someone with the right skill set.”

Sarah Ballard Smith, divisional nurse director of NHS Lothian, said that the health board already participated jointly with Edinburgh Napier University in the compassionate care programme, which aimed to provide staff and nursing students with skills to provide appropriate care.

She added: “Every member of staff has a vital role to play in providing the best quality of care for older people at all times. Over £11 million has been spent in Lothian this year on supporting older people in the community and in hospital.

“We have also introduced the first nurse consultant in Scotland to deal directly with dementia patients and their families and look to improve the services we offer. We take on board all feedback we receive and are committed to providing the best possible standard of healthcare at all times.”


IN April 2005, after NHS Lothian received reports of poor care for older people, the External Reference Group for Older People’s Services (ERG), was established.

It was chaired by Anne Jarvie CBE, former chief nursing officer for Scotland, with a membership that boasted expertise in the health and social care of older people.

The ERG was asked to act as a “critical friend” in helping to understand whether there were common themes that needed to be addressed in the care of older people. It delivered its recommendations in March 2006, with the creation of the Older People’s Champion for Scotland among the most prominent. Ms Jarvie herself agreed to take up the role.

Other recommendations included putting measures in place to ensure older people did not become “lost” in the hospital system, improving overnight staffing and prioritising effective nutritional care.