A Burton charity boss has warned that the elderly worry they are being "a burden" when sharing concerns over NHS care, after national figures revealed that some older people may be "suffering in silence".
Lisa Beard, of Age UK Burton, has spoken out after a national survey of 600 people who had an elderly family member who had stayed in hospital overnight in the past year, found that older people often rely on relatives to raise concerns when things go wrong with hospital care. The new poll found that some family members find it difficult to raise concerns.
The research, which was conducted by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman found that the relatives of elderly hospital patients surveyed raised a number of concerns over care. National instances included an older male patient having to dial 999 after a fall in his hospital room and a patient put in to an adult "nappy" instead of being given help to go to the toilet.
Lisa said it was a common problem as the elderly "do not want to be a burden".
She said: "Our experience has shown that there are many older people who do not want to be a burden to health professionals and feel that if they raise concerns or make a complaint they will have difficulty making further appointments as and when they do need treatment.
"As an organisation we always encourage older people and their families to tell us about their experiences both good and bad, and there are certainly many examples of excellent care by local health professionals.
"However, not everyone’s experiences are the same, and it is vitally important that cases of poor care and support are investigated and corrective action taken if necessary to prevent further cases.
"Locally there are many avenues to get information from and to talk to people in confidence, for example local PPG’s (Patient Participation Groups of GP Surgeries), The Patient Board of East Staffs Clinical commissioning Group CCG, Healthwatch, PALS, Citizens Advice and of course ourselves who will all help and alleviate the worry that any kind of health care will be compromised if issues are raised.
"How can things change for the better if nothing is ever questioned?"
The survey found that more than one in three said there were occasions when they were concerned about the care or treatment of their older relative in hospital.
Of these, 58 per cent said they felt compelled to complain.
Among those who had raised concerns, half said it was "difficult" to complain and only 37 per cent said they felt their concern was listened to and taken seriously.
Only 27 per cent said they felt their complaint made a difference.
Among those who said they were concerned about care but did not complain, 19 per cent said they were worried about the impact that complaining would have on the care and treatment of their relative.
Despite the findings, the ombudsman said there were far fewer complaints from older people than would be expected given older people's high usage of NHS services.
Rob Behrens, from the Ombudsman service said: "The NHS is a lifeline for many vulnerable older people but, when things go wrong, too many are suffering in silence.
"I want people to be confident to complain, know their rights, and speak up when things go wrong so that the NHS can learn from mistakes and improve services for others.
"NHS staff should make patients and their loved ones aware of how to complain, point them to available support, and make it absolutely clear that their future care will not be compromised."
Lara Crisp, editor of Gransnet, the grandparents website, said: "Patients deserve better than this. While we appreciate that services are stretched, communication with patients and their families must be improved. They should feel that their concerns are taken seriously and addressed properly.
"It is simply not acceptable that over half of people with a concern feel they can't complain or that it won't make any difference if they do.
"Hospital staff need to be supported and enabled to communicate better with patients so that everyone is clear about the complaints procedure and patients are reassured that this will not affect their future care."
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "We are determined to make the NHS the safest healthcare system in the world, but when things do go wrong, it is incredibly important to listen to patients' and families' complaints or wider feedback.
"By learning from mistakes we can improve care. This is why we made complaints handling a crucial element of the hospital inspection regime.
"These findings show more could be done to help older people and families complain. We are clear that organisations should be open about how to complain and clearly communicate the support available to people who need help complaining."