Hospitals in the UK have used “do not resuscitate” orders secretly to bring elderly patients to an early death, an investigation has found. The orders, which are an advance decision that patients’ lives should not be saved if their hearts stop, are regularly being enacted without the knowledge of the patients or their families. In one ward, according to the National Health Service, one-third of DNR orders were used in this way. In another hospital, junior doctors admitted that medical teams filled out the forms without discussing the matter with patients or their relatives.
Medical guidelines state that the orders should only be issued after senior staff discuss the matter with the patient’s family. A form signed by two doctors is placed in the patient’s notes to record the decisions made. The findings surfaced when official watchdog Care Quality Commission made spot checks of 100 hospitals earlier this year. According to the BMJ, the CQC reported that more than half of all hospitals in the UK also were not meeting key standards for nutrition and dignity in elderly people.
Gary Fitzgerald, of the charity organisation Action on Elder Abuse, said: “We believe that there is a real danger here that we are seeing euthanasia by default and by the back door. In some cases it is occurring by accident, because the practices being used are not safe; in others, we are seeing junior doctors taking decisions without consulting patients or family.” Health Secretary Andrew Lansley commented on the CQC’s findings, saying it was “simply unacceptable” that so many hospitals were not taking care of the basics. He said, “Everyone admitted to hospital deserves to be treated as an individual, with compassion and dignity. We must never lose sight of the fact that the most important people in the NHS are its patients.” ~ Guardian, Oct 15; BMJ, Oct 13