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Letter from the i editor: A new national debate

The hallmark of a civilised society is how it treats both its very old and very young. Recent decades have seen a great lessening of the under-five child mortality rate which, since 1970, has fallen by three-quarters and since 1990 about 50 per cent.

But the UK also has Western Europe’s worst child mortality rate, and globally we have fallen from 12th-best country to 33rd in the same period. Marry this to the Institute for Fiscal Studies’ sober warning that a further 500,000 children will be in “absolute poverty” by 2015. By 2020 its forecast is 23 per cent in absolute poverty. The 2010 Child Poverty Act set a target of 5 per cent.

Meanwhile, i, like most newspapers yesterday, featured the bleak news that one in five NHS trusts were failing to meet the minimum legal standards in nutrition and dignity for their patients. The Care Quality Commission’s 100 unannounced inspections of NHS hospitals came up with 55 cases of concern! Rightly, the findings were called “alarming”.

Many of us will have uniquely good experiences of care on the NHS, which has thousands of dedicated professionals working in it, but these figures cannot be swept under the carpet. They are a national disgrace. What is our “society” when we cannot entrust our elders to the NHS for fear that they will not be cleaned, fed, or even “watered” safely – let alone healed? That’s not to mention being spoken to without condescension, or being covered up appropriately.

You don’t have to have a mother who was 80 last week like I do to find this deeply disturbing. Every day I listen to friends and family express concern about how we will all care for our Aged Ps. Often they are in tears of worry. We need badly a new national debate on this subject; one where the majority of us really are “all in this together”. Remember, one day that Aged P, that OAP, will be you.

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