Monday 29 June 2020

Old Lives Don't Matter

I will always believe that my aunt was murdered in hospital, but I cannot prove it and there is no point even trying. She was doing the Telegraph crossword one day, the next she was deprived of water by her doctors and put on a pathway to death because a committee of them decided she wasn’t going to make it so it would be best to hasten things. By the time I was told it was already too late. If I had known sooner, I would have got her out of that hospital forcibly, but I would probably have been arrested for trying.

It is routine for older people to be treated as if they were lesser beings. One of my mother’s friends was ordained and an important member of her church. When she died her son decided to give her a humanist funeral and no one from the church was invited.

 So many older people live alone neglected by their family. The vultures circle waiting for whatever legacy may come their way but treat their parents with disdain. They don’t phone and when they do, they don’t listen. I have heard so many tragic stories because I live with my mother. I know many of her friends. They get more help from each other than they do from their families. Have you any idea what it is like to be an older person on her own who can’t open a jam jar when there is no one to do it for her? What if it were you? It will be.

This is the context of the greatest scandal of all during Covid. The treatment of older people in hospitals and care homes happened because for decades we haven’t thought that their lives matter.

This is why older people were pressurised into signing do not resuscitate forms. It is also why sick elderly patients were sent back to care homes to spread Covid.

There was mad panic in hospitals in March. There had to be be room for all the potential Covid patients that were going to overwhelm the NHS. This is why the army built Nightingale hospitals so quickly. It is also why hospital wards were stripped of the elderly.

I wonder who phoned the doctors and managers of those hospitals in Scotland to demand that beds be freed. Can you imagine what would have happened if the hospitals had refused? A little while later we would have seen evidence of their repentance.

There were things that none of us knew in March. We didn’t know then that the NHS was not going to be overwhelmed. We didn’t know that people without symptoms could spread Covid, though we might have guessed, because that is the way with so many other diseases, but the elderly were anyway treated as bed blockers because that is the mentality of too many.

Half of the Covid deaths in Scotland could have been prevented if the Scottish Government which is solely responsible for health had decided either to leave the elderly where they were in hospital or find alternative accommodation and carers for them.

If asylum seekers can be housed in hotels, so too could the elderly who were discharged from hospital. All but the most frail could have been looked after by staff recruited by the Scottish Government using the money it received from the Treasury. Most elderly people just need someone to open the jam jars and give them a little company. Those that needed a lot more care than that should have been kept in the hospitals. If elderly people in this way had been kept isolated in hotel rooms or elsewhere, they would have survived.

The decision to send older Covid infected people to care homes was the cause of more avoidable deaths in Scotland than any other. We need to know who made it.

There are mitigating circumstances, but if you call yourself a Government then you have to take responsibility even then. It is no good saying that there were deaths in care homes in other parts of Britain. What has that to do with the decision that was made in Scotland? Devolution means you don’t get to blame the English even if your whole life and thought has been founded on just that.

There needs to be an inquiry into each avoidable death in Scotland. The police need to investigate who made what decision and when. If it turns out that there was negligence on the part of politicians, then they will need at least to resign. But more importantly we all need to change our thinking about older people.

Compare and contrast the treatment of sick infants with sick older people. A sick infant is given the best treatment possible. There are campaigns for the latest treatment and parents strive to keep the infant alive even if it is only for a few more months. An infant is not deprived of water so that its death is hastened. It is not discharged from hospital even if the bed is needed. We act in this way because the life that this infant has is the only one it will ever have. It is uniquely valuable.

But each life is the only one that each of us will ever have. It is this that makes all forms of discrimination morally wrong. The value of a life depends solely on its humanity. Neither race, nor age, nor sex nor any other characteristic is morally significant.

The lives of older people matter. They are the people in Britain today who are most likely to suffer discrimination. They are the people who frequently live lives of quiet desperation because no one cares. No other group of people is more deserving of demonstrations, but no demonstrates for them.

Old Lives Don’t Matter.