Sunday, 4 March 2012

Compassion matters however old you are.

A commission into care for the elderly by the NHS Confederation has revealed that the importance of compassion and dignity is often undervalued in the way care is delivered.

The report recommends that an emphasis be put on respecting the dignity of the elderly and that carers should avoid using patronising language. It also recommends that more should be done to improve the quality of life for older people, such as helping them to keep in touch with relatives, take part in activities or just having someone there to keep them company.

Sir Keith Pearson, one of the authors of the report told the BBC’s Today programme that whilst the NHS and the care home sector provided ‘excellent care’ in most instances there are small pockets in which ‘dignity has broken down’. There needed to be, he said, a culture change where people who deliver care are recruited for their values and then trained in the necessary skills.

I could not agree more, nothing so shames our society more than the shameful way we treat older people. Agreement that something must be done crosses the political divide and yet what we actually do is nothing very much apart from filling a library with reports telling us the same things over and over again.

Why could this be, are we stupid or insensitive? Have we bought wholesale into the baby boomer fiction that growing old is some sort of failing on the part of an individual rather than the destination we all arrive at unless some misfortune intervenes? Maybe; all those elements are certainly present in our attitudes to the elderly, but there is another, simpler answer to the question we always seem to overlook.

We fail to show older people the compassion they deserve because we fail to realise that compassion along with trust and respect is something people should expect from the society they live in over the whole course of their lives, not a benefit to be, grudgingly, given as their lives draw to a close. When people lives closer, less materialistic lives this was something they understood implicitly; in our atomised modern world it is a thing we have forgotten at the most dangerous of costs.

All our best impulses are rooted in promoting trust, compassion and respect from fighting the most brutally oppressive prejudices to putting works of fine art on display in galleries where they can be appreciated by the masses rather than leaving them in palaces to be ignored by aristocrats. Over the past thirty years these values have been under systematic attack from cynical politicians, a witlessly one dimensional popular culture and, it has to be said, the ignorance and complacency of people like you and I.

We recruited our leading figures in politics, business and culture precisely because they were skilled at telling us what we wanted to hear. Greed is good, because you’re worth it, there is no such thing as society; a litany of seductive selfishness with a scorpion’s sting in its tail.

Now that times are hard, harder than they have been since the thirties in some parts of the country, these same leaders don’t have the values necessary to keep people together. Instead they play on the same cynical themes that divide communities and stoke feelings of disenchantment because they have no answers and nothing of value to say.

It is right that something finally should be done about the shocking way elderly people are treated by a tiny minority of carers. Good conscientious care workers deserve to be paid properly and values for the service they deliver; cruel or incompetent ones deserve to be caught and punished, but treating a single symptom will not cure the wider disease.

The time has come for our society as a whole to bite the bullet of realising that we need to ensure that everyone regardless of age or origins has a decent quality of life. That may mean being a little less materially affluent, but in the longer term we will all be happier and healthier.

Cheese for Europe

Veteran lounge singer Englebert Humperdinck will sing the UK’s entry in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. I doubt it will do much to improve our chances of winning.

This is no reflection on the talents of Mr Humperdinck, he might not be my particular cup of musical tea, but his album sales and longevity mean he must have something the fans like.

Instead it is recognition of the fact that British performers are able to sell their records globally, ABBA aside most other European artists, even the ones who win Eurovision, are unknown outside their country of origin.

Since they will probably get nul points on the night Mr Humperdinck and his fans should just get on with enjoying taking part.

A horse; a horse….

According to evidence given to the Leveson inquiry this week former News International executive Rebekah Brooks was ‘loaned’ a retired police horse called Raisa by friends at the Met. If that wasn’t bizarre enough it turns out our own dear Prime Minister rode said horse on a number of occasions.

I can just picture him rising to the trot as his good friend Rupert sinks his claws into the country’s media. Tally-ho!

If some enterprising theatre company turns the Leveson inquiry into a stage play they are going to have to get Brian Rix in to do the script because it is rapidly turning into a total farce.

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