I've said it before, and I'll say it again – if I show signs of dementia, don't bother putting me in a care home, just hand me a plastic bag and I'll dispose of myself without further ado.
All this week 70-year-old Deddie Davies has become the Donal McIntyre of the Today programme, filing undercover audio reports from a care home where she pretended to be suffering from mild dementia.
It's made depressingly listening. Day after day her fellow residents were left in a lounge from breakfast to supper with the television blaring. Pills were dished out by a nurse who left her trolley unattended and seemed more interested in what was on the screen than any of her patients.
Indeed, none of the carers seemed to have any interest in actually talking to the patients at all, and Deddie was woken up late one night by loud shouting, only to discover it was a member of staff on the telephone. The person supposed to organise activities didn't bother to show up, and Deddie's outing consisted of a trip to sit in the hall. In short, it was a dreary, demeaning place to die.
I don't care what people say about good and bad care homes, for a large number of people suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's (set to rise to a million within 20 years), they are horrible places. The Commission for Social Care has just produced a report following a survey into conditions at a hundred care homes – and more than half were ordered to make fundamental improvements. One in five failed to treat their inmates with the dignity and respect they are legally entitled to.
It gets even worse. More than a third didn't allow patients to draw up their own care plans – a government requirement. There was no choice about food, and there were no activities. Not even five minutes a day chat.
These places are often run as commercial enterprises, where profits have to be made and balance sheets kept firmly in the black. Auxiliary nursing is so badly paid that it tends to attract the unqualified and the least suitable. It's not seen as a vocation – something to be proud of, a job that gives you a sense of achievement.
The commission has called for better staff training for workers who deal with those suffering from dementia and Alzeimer's, but the licensing of care homes needs far more emphasis on quality of life. The industry is crying out for rebranding as a rewarding career opportunity, not an employer of last resort if you're broke.
A spokesman for the Association of Care Homes yesterday waffled on about the Government developing a range of strategies, mouthing platitudes such as, "People don't come to work to do a bad job". Physical abuse is relatively easy to spot and punish. The problem Deddie identified was a total lack of interaction between staff and patients.
This is fundamental: to care for someone you have to care about them. Not exactly rocket science. The task of wiping the backside of an elderly man who's incontinent isn't the same as sticking a sliced loaf in a wrapper. We don't need a government roadshow with Michael Parkinson but a fundamental retraining of those working with the elderly.
Gilbert Brown told a court that he tried to commit suicide with his wife after he found conditions in her care home left a lot to be desired. Luckily, he was unsuccessful. When he pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting attempted suicide, the judge decided he would not be sent to prison. The home in question says it's passed every inspection. What's needed is time to chat – and inspectors don't monitor that at present.
A nation of stags and hens
We sneer at the endless round of stag and hen parties that Wayne Rooney and his bride-to-be Coleen are submitting themselves to (he's on a £250,000 bender in Ibiza this week, while she's on her third party in the Canaries having spent £160,000 so far). But they're no different to thousands of people their age, just richer.
I changed trains at Newcastle last Friday and the station was thronging with posses of women in shorts and pink Stetsons, ready to start partying.
These booze-fests are keeping bars, hotels and airlines in business. Ryanair might be cutting flights next winter, but none will be cut to the cities on the hen and stag circuit. Even the young royals do it.
Let's face it, these events are a generation divider.
* Liam Byrne has attracted flak from north of the border for suggesting that the August Bank holiday becomes British National Day.
The Government canvassed the public about what they'd like to do, and most people said they'd like to eat and drink more. Any similarity between the Mr and Mrs Blobbies of 2008 and the thin, neat and tidy families who sat down to meals at tables in the street after the Coronation is slight.
Gordon Brown is obsessed with Britishness, a concept doomed to failure with the Scots. They're pushing for a referendum on independence, they have their August Bank holiday on a different day, and the last thing they want to watch on telly in August is Morris dancing from Hyde Park or Queen playing their greatest hits from the Tower of London. They've got the Highland Games and the Edinburgh Festival and Tattoo.
The idea of celebrating being part of Britain is one of Gordon's "initiatives" best left quietly to wither and die.Reuse content