I met an elderly Polish in the street who started to tell me again about the death of her husband a few years ago in hospital here. "He died," she said, "of starvation." I am sure that the truth is that she did have enough English to understand what was really wrong with him.
I am sure that there is rarely a situation in which the elderly die through starvation or lack of hydration but I hear far too many anecdotal stories in which people think has happened, Fr Finigan mentions a case today.
My own mother died last year, she had suffered from dementia and had a kidney complaint, she also had MRSA. Although she was being hydrated intravenously little was done to ensure that she was fed or give water orally. She could often be difficult about accepting food; she needed a great deal of patience and coaxing which the hospital staff were unable to cope with. My father used to go in and feed her and give her liquids. I think if things were left to the staff she would have received nothing by mouth, they simply do not have the time or the skill to feed the elderly, ultimately I suppose it is not budgeted for.
Nursing has become increasingly specialised, I am not sure that feeding and hydrating the elderly, or even cleaning, are regarded as worthwhile specialisms. My father did it, because he loved her. She accepted food from him even when she no longer recognised him, I think, because over the months he learnt how to coax her, you need staff to know the odd ways of their patients if they are to do that, the health service doesn’t function like that, it treats illnesses not people.
One of things that seems to be lacking in the health service is simply a human heart, but no amount of money or training can deal with that. I find it interesting that Filipino parishioners who work in the NHS in this country seem to find that the most horrifying thing about Britain.