God gives us friends with different giftings. We know the one who’ll champion us instinctively when we’ve been wronged (even if it turns out that we haven’t been entirely blamess ourselves), or if we’re worried or grieved about something or someone, or if we need advice, or encouragement and a wise word.
More than at any other time, we need a friend who will speak up for us when we’re not able to ourselves. It was a friend, you’ll remember, who rescued a 91 year old man who’d been taken into care against his will by Social Services who then began to sell his house to pay for his care. (See https://blog.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk/man-91-saved-friend-speaking/ )
At the time the Court of Protection Judge said, ‘A defenceless 91 year old gentleman in the final years of his life was removed from his home of 50 years and detained in a locked dementia unit against his wishes. Had it not been for the alarm raised by his friend he may have been condemned to remain there for the remainder of his days.’
Now recent reports are showing how elderly patients are suffering poor care and treatment in hospitals and care homes in silence. The Telegraph says, ‘a third of over 65s who experienced below standard care did not speak up because they were concerned their future treatment would be compromised.’ (Read about it here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/12073839/Elderly-patients-suffering-in-silence.html
But as well as fears about receiving even worst treatment should they speak up, there’s often a natural reluctance in the elderly to ‘make a fuss’, or speak out at all. Many of them were brought up with the virtue of keeping a stiff upper lip, and not complaining to their ‘betters’.
It seems, too, from the story, that increasing numbers of residents from care homes are being treated in A&E. Some charities attribute this to cuts to care budgets, which result in frail elderly people being left neglected until they become so sick they have to be rushed to A&E. But I can’t see that level of neglect happening in a residential care home. It’s true that care budgets have been cut to below the real cost of care. (If Pilgrims’ Friend Society weren’t a 208 year old charity with faithful donors and supporters we wouldn’t be able to do all that we do.) But it’s also a fact that Councils are only funding older people for residential care when they are extremely frail – almost at death’s door in some cases, and these would be more likely to have crises needing emergency admissions.
Perhaps we all need to have a pact with a spouse or partner, that if we were run over by a bus or anything calamitous and had to be rushed into A&E without being able to speak, that they would speak on our behalf. I have a pact like that with one of my friends, who is a fearless, assertive lady. And I’ve promised to do the same for her.
But who will be a voice for a frail older person who can’t speak up for him or herself? And doesn’t have a spouse or family member or friend?
Perhaps we should pray each day for the weak, the vulnerable, the frail and the elderly. And at the same time thank God for the healthcare professionals who do care, who do listen. Pray that they may be strengthened and encouraged. There should be a Society and a website for honouring them. If you know of one let me know.