This site is intended for health professionals only

Undercover reporting: the NHS exposed

Community services rarely reach the headlines. However, two Panorama programmes have recently uncovered shocking standards of care, causing great dismay within the nursing world ...

Lynn Young
Primary Healthcare Adviser for the RCN

The recent reporting on Panorama of scandalous standards of care received by patients at Mid Staffordshire Hospital was alarming, and people with any sense of decency and integrity were bound to feel for the patients concerned. We are also well aware that when patients are badly cared for, it is not only them who suffer; their friends, partners and relatives feel betrayed and suffer the consequences of knowing that their loved ones were unnecessarily neglected.

Sadly, it is often only the bad news we hear about, while the abundance of spectacular care provided every day by the NHS hardly ever spreads beyond those lucky patients who are able to tell their good news to those people close to them. However, I have spent time with friends and relatives who have recently been in the hands of the NHS. Without exception, they spoke in lyrical terms of the constant kindness, competence and consideration given to them by all staff – from the cleaner, to the tea lady, to nurses and doctors.

Being a community nurse, though, it was the second Panorama programme, highlighting the appalling standards of home care, that I found particularly heartbreaking. It is hard living alone, being dependent and requiring nursing, and then being provided with the bleakest of care standards. Given that, there was very little care to be seen.

While I struggle with the ethics surrounding undercover surveillance tactics – particularly where vulnerable people who require intimate care are concerned – there is no doubt that these television programmes provide alarming, undisputed evidence.

Had the people who were in receipt of home care services in this instance given permission to be filmed while being washed in rather uncompromising positions? Clearly not, when it was quite clear that the employed carers had no idea that they were being filmed. Privacy and dignity score high points in the human rights domain, meaning that we respect other people's as much as our own.

Let's return to the business of the dire care being provided to such needy and frail people. Why on earth were they not being looked after by the NHS, rather than social services? One gentleman had cancer and was in much pain while being unskilfully and inconsiderately moved and washed. Where was the district nurse team? How on earth have we arrived at a situation where such patients – yes patients – were in the hands of social carers, rather then nurses?

Many questions need to be answered and while we wait to see if a formal inquiry is to be held on the state of Mid Staffordshire Hospital we need to put an equal amount of energy into pursuing the standards of care provided in the community.

We in the nursing profession are never allowed the luxury of being complacent about standards of care and patient safety.
Once one problem is sorted out, another arises, which needs our full attention if we are to help the public feel that it is safe in our hands.

The nation has a duty to ensure that when we are in need, we receive the right service from the right people, who have the skills and knowledge to secure our comfort and safety. It is a terrible thing to feel fear when you are no longer able to look after yourself.

My current mission is to do what is necessary through the Royal College of Nursing to ensure that when people living at home require nursing, they get it, and they get the very best.
This may take some time ...

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"I did see the Panorama programme and was very shocked and upset. My experience was that I was a patient in March 2009 following a total hip replacement and received very poor treatment on the ward, the nurses were all aware that I was a nurse and still I was treated badly. I have made a formal complaint and have received an apology, but that is not the point as I felt that the poor care I received was so casual that it must have been routine. I am a practice nurse and triage nurse and have been nursing for the past 35 yrs, always treating my patients, carers and families with the highest respect, care and empathy. Whilst I was a patient at least I was able to speak, not like some of the patients seen in the Panorama programme. Thankfully my stay was very short" - Maria Fuller

"There is no justification for poor care in any part of healthcare delivery. Sadly this is not isolated and whilst I enjoyed good care in some places, I witnessed appalling care as well and this was reserved for older people. Many nurses and carers work so hard and a minority of poor care reflects on us all" - Kathy French, London