There are two aspects of care in a hospital; medical treatment and what is sometimes called humane care.  The latter includes orally supplied food, water (for those who can partake), warmth, cleanliness, etc.  It isn’t “medical,” it is basic, and cannot be withdrawn.

But things have apparently gotten so bad at some NHS facilities that doctors are prescribing glasses of water to prevent the staff from forgetting to give elderly patients water, hundreds of whom are dehydrating to death each year. From the story:

Doctors are prescribing drinking water for neglected elderly patients to stop them dying of thirst in hospital. The measure – to remind nurses of the most basic necessity – is revealed in a damning report on pensioner care in NHS wards. Some trusts are neglecting the elderly on such a fundamental level their wards could face closure orders.

The snapshot study, triggered by a Mail campaign, found staff routinely ignored patients’ calls for help and forgot to check that they had had enough to eat and drink. Dehydration contributes to the death of more than 800 hospital patients every year. Another 300 die malnourished. The latest report – by the Care Quality Commission – found patients frequently complained they were spoken to in a ‘condescending and dismissive’ manner. The watchdog said three of 12 NHS trusts visited in the past three months were failing to meet the most basic standards required by law.

Note: These aren’t feeding tube cases, in which medically supplied sustenance is withdrawn.  This involved failures to provide food and water that the patients can consume orally.  That’s gross negligence on an unimaginable scale.  Here are some added details:


At Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, Worcestershire, inspectors reported ‘major’ concerns on nutrition. Doctors often have to prescribe ‘drinking water’ for patients to ensure nurses remember to give them enough fluids. At Ipswich Hospital, the elderly are made to suffer the indignity of using a commode by their bedside because staff are too busy to take them to the toilet. Inspectors also found routine examples of patients’ meals being dumped by their bed while they were asleep and then taken away again untouched. Emergency call buttons are often left out of patients’ reach and they often have to press them seven times before a nurse responds. One elderly man was forced to attract attention by banging on his water jug or shouting.


How can this happen in an advanced society such as the UK?  I don’t think it is a coincidence that the elderly are the ones being so criminally neglected.  Such criminal negligence—there should be prosecutions—reflect the growing utilitarianism of society and the quality of life ethic—which combine to produce intense ageism—combined with severely strained resources caused by single payer financing in a bad economy, and the administrative mess created by centralized bureaucratic control.

Unimaginable collapse of basic care! Florence Nightingale is weeping.

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