I couldn’t bring myself to watch this week’s Panorama programme which focussed on a care home in Essex. I saw some clips in the news which told me enough. For a journalist, and one who teaches journalists of the future, that’s a pretty poor example to set. I should have examined all the evidence presented in the programme before drawing any conclusions.
Except, I don’t feel I need to. It’s right that programmes like Wednesday’s Panorama are made. A civilised society must not accept mistreatment of anyone, especially the most vulnerable amongst us, or it has no place calling itself civilised. It’s right, too, that those whose who are shown not to care, be they cruel or simply overwhelmed by their role, should pay the price. I, and the thousand of others who entrust loved ones to the care system, should be grateful that programmes like this expose malpractice.
And yet, somehow, I’m not surprised it goes on. If we want to examine why the elderly in care homes or hospitals, or those with mental health issues, or those who are vulnerable in other ways can be treated like this, we need to look at the way these people are portrayed or, rather, stigmatised. Too often, the language is negative suggesting anyone who isn’t healthy and, dare I say it, young, is somehow a burden. Too often, politicians focus on the cost of care, rather than the responsibility of society to provide care for those who need it. Of course, care must be paid for but by emphasising the cost rather than the care, the implication is clear. How often have we read newspaper headlines about a “dementia timebomb”, about “dementia sufferers”, about old people “bed-blocking” in hospital? All negative, all suggesting – sometimes implicitly – that these people are a problem, not human beings who need our help and compassion.
None of this excuses what went on at The Old Deanery or Stafford Hospital. People who work in care system surely know the difference between what’s right and what’s wrong when it comes to treating other human beings. But, unless we change the way in which we view anyone who is slightly different – whether by age, health, race or sexuality – then examples that outrage so many of us will continue to occur.
So, at the end of this week, the care system is once again under the microscope and it’s easy to conclude that the system is broken. It isn’t. There are examples of wonderful care for those living with dementia or in a hospital of whatever kind, being treated for whatever condition. Mum has been in her care home for three years this month and I’ve spent enough time there to know that she’s well cared for. Moving Mum there wasn’t an easy decision – my sister and I knew there was no alternative. It pained us to do it but three years on, we know we were right. The staff have been wonderful. It is a care home, it cares.
I heard someone contribute to one of the many radio phone-ins on the subject of care this week complain that the BBC never focusses on the good news about care. Quite simply, the day we start having to report on good care, as if it isn’t our right, will be a sad day indeed. Good care shouldn’t be news, it should be what we all expect and receive.