SPOTLIGHT ON THE ROYAL FREE Failing the elderly is unacceptable: so why have Royal Free standards fallen?

�The contrast could hardly be greater: a glowing report for one hospital in north London, and a damning indictment for another. The much-publicised Care and Quality Commission’s reports into two of our leading hospitals may even suggest that when it comes to care of the elderly, a postcode lottery is developing.

University College London Hospital (UCLH) in Euston proved to be a shining example this week – contrasting sharply with the shocking failures of The Royal Free in the same assessment a week earlier.

The commission has produced a glowing report on how UCLH staff treat their elderly patients, emphasising that it had no concerns over the provision of nutrition and respect, and that it will not be requesting the hospital to make any changes.

Inspectors noted that across the board care, explanations and treatment were given to elderly patients with respect. The food was reported to be both tasty and nutritional with cultural and religious demands taken into account.

Meanwhile just up the road in Hampstead the Royal Free is failing on both counts. According to the CQC the hospital is not meeting either of the essential standards reviewed.

While patients at UCLH were “full of praise” for their treatment, saying that they were well informed, kept up to date and treated with dignity and respect, patients at The Royal Free said staff did not always respond to their needs quickly enough – with call bells out of the reach of most patients, or being ignored for long periods when they were pressed.

Staff were also seen carrying out treatment on patients with no interaction or any attempt to respect patient’s privacy.

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Food was also reported to be a big issue at the Royal Free, with menus badly displayed and patients unable to wash their hands before eating.

Inspectors also reported that staff did not always check patients had enough to drink or interact with them while they helped with their food.

John Bryant, chairman of the Camden health scrutiny committee said: “The key thing is that good standards are being upheld across the hospitals in the area and clearly in the case of the Royal Free this is not happening. As soon as this report came out I made sure that we would pull them into the next possible scrutiny meeting, which they have agreed to attend.”

Neil Woodnick, of Camden LINk, a health watchdog organisation, believes that the quality of care at UCLH is what every patient should expect but that failings at the Royal Free are not as endemic as the report suggested.