BBC documentary series ‘Protecting our Parents’

Protecting Our Parents

Dr Peter Wallis, formerly consultant geriatrician – Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, was involved with the filming of a new BBC 2 Documentary Series

The department of elderly medicine at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital became aware of the BBC‘s interest in a documentary series about the care of older people following an advertisement in the British Geriatrics Society Newsletter (2012) placed by the BBC Bristol Documentary team.   The intention was to produce a 3 part documentary series reflecting current issues in the health and social care of older people. Following successful discussions and with the agreement of partner organisations including social services as well as primary, community, mental health and ambulance service teams, filming took place during 2012/13. Filming was centred around the elderly care and general wards as well as the A&E department at Birmingham Heartlands Hospital and the patients with their stories were followed into community settings.

There were a number of challenges to be overcome in the making of the series. Resolving issues around consent, preservation of patient dignity and ensuring that clinical care was not compromised were of key importance. Gaining support from colleagues across the hospital, community and social care settings was also equally important to the success of the series. The BBC documentary team were, as expected, highly professional and the patient stories have been told in a sensitive and poignant way.

The series will raise awareness about important issues in relation to the care of frail and older people, including the complexities of care and the challenging decisions faced by patients and families, as well as hospital and community teams. The pressures on NHS and social care resources, problems associated with unnecessarily prolonged hospital stays and the need for coordinated and responsive services for frail older people are also highlighted in the series. The patient stories, told in a sensitive and poignant way, powerfully illustrate the impact of frailty crises on patients and their families. Themes covered in the series include:

  • Frailty crises
  • Balancing risk vs benefit in hospital admission for frail and /or confused older patients
  • Delayed discharge owing to complex care needs
  • End of life decisions
  • Dementia – stresses and strains on carers
  • Dementia and decision making – capacity and best interests, who decides?
  • The limits of care in the community
  • Availability of care facilities, especially those for older patients with mental health issues

The programme is important viewing. These scenarios are everyday occurrences for many frail and older people and of course might affect an appreciable number of us when we are older too. Hospitals and community services need to continue their drive to become more ‘frailty and dementia’ friendly. Public awareness of these issues will help to focus planning and service development for frail older people. The series is neither an exposé nor does it present a health and social care system that has all the answers. The BBC team has provided a realistic view on the health and social care of older people today. Finally and most importantly, the documentary series would not have been possible without the generous support of the participating patients and their families to whom we are most grateful.

Protecting our Parents will be on BBC 2 at 9pm on Thursday, 17 April 2014. More information is available at Heart of England NHS website.




5 thoughts on “BBC documentary series ‘Protecting our Parents’

  1. The system killed ‘Jim’ . To send an elderly man home to look after himself with a walking frame and a commode is a disgrace. The outcome was inevitable – I thought when I first saw him discharged that he was going to die. An absolute disgrace.

    I was sole carer for my father for 10 years. I was never told about how his condition would deteriorate and told nothing about his dementia or his COPD – I found out eventually from his Death Certificate when died of aspiration pneumonia.

    I consider that by not giving me information to be proactive in his care, and by not telling me what symptoms to look out for , the medical professionals were negligent and my father died prematurely. I find out now that elderly people are often asymptomatic, so one needs to be on constant watch for behavioural changes. Was I told this or anything else about my father’s care needs by our GP or at discharge from his hospital admissions? No – it was a conveyor belt process …. diagnose -> treat -> discharge.
    It was this roll on – roil off process and the lack of information for me to be proactive in my father’s medical care that caused my father’s early death and also my depression brought on by guilt.

    I have little but contempt for the way that the medical so-call professionals dealt with my father and myself. I am sure that we were not an exception.

    There is a vast difference between ‘care’ and ‘treatment’. Elderly people do not obtain ‘care’ , that’s for certain. If they are lucky they get timely ‘treatment’.

    A national scandal. But unfortunately, as I said in hospital, one cannot implant compassion in those who do not have it.
    There is one simple fact that I have learned during the last 2 weeks of my father’s life in hospital – no one gives a damn. And that’s a fact.

    • Tom, I’m very sorry to hear you had such a terrible time with your father. You highlight a very common source of frustration and concern – inadequate time taken to listen and respond to concerns of patients and their families. As you say this leads to uncertainty, misplaced hopes and expectations, which can be a source of anger and frustration.

      If you take some time to read back through the blogs on this site from the past year, you’ll find many contributors who share your concerns about the quality of communication with patients and their relatives within the NHS today. Some of these contributions come from patients, or their representatives. Many come from the medical profession, or nurses, or allied health professionals.

      The NHS has not gotten care for older people with frailty right yet. Perhaps it should have done by now but the models of care which evolved in the last century are no longer effective in the face of an ever increasing burden of frailty, dependency and cognitive impairment.

      It’s easy to say that effective listening and compassionate communication are down to basic humanity but to maintain these – and to get them right most of the time – in the face of overwhelming human adversity and suffering is a skill. such skills need to be taught. They need to be role-modelled.

      The effective management of many of the problems commonly seen in older patients – immobility, incontinence, memory problems, falls, malnutrition, too many drugs of the wrong type – requires specialist training and expertise which is all too absent from many pockets of clinical practice.

      Every day I work with health care professionals, social workers, researchers, academics, teachers, as well as representatives of patient and carer bodies, who recognise that the NHS often falls short of expectations in these areas. We are doing everything in our power to make things better.

      Please believe me – as I sit here typing this at 1 in the morning, before getting a few hours sleep before starting my next day of trying to make it better – lots of people out there do give a damn.

      • Thank you for your response.
        I was reading Ann Clwyd’s statement about her husband’s hospital treatment. I can relate to virtually everything she has written, reflecting much of my father’s and my own experience whilst he was in hospital. He was ‘written off’ from the moment he passed through the hospital doors, presumably because he was 91 years old.
        Details of our experience whilst in hospital and prior to his admission were a disgrace.

        I note with interest that the usual whitewash has taken place – even an MP can’t get anywhere with ‘the system’, where everyone covers each others back.

        Resolving the problem of communicating with carers is not rocket science – it can EASILY be built in the procedures – post-examination and on discharge.
        I am sorry, but I can only conclude that the reason that such a simple process is not integrated into the system is because no one cares to be bothered. The medical ‘profession’ appears to have developed into a self-satisfied career- focused autocracy with little regard for the views and feelings of patients or their carers, and certainly devoid of compassion,

        The facts is that my father was taken prematurely, despite my 24/7 care because no one gave a damn to tell me what to do about his health needs.

  2. Like many people with parents just entering this stage of life, I have watched the first 2 of these programs primarily with horror at what constitutes an acceptable quality of life in later years. There was also some touching moments with glimpses of what these frail and often confused and defensive people were like as youngsters. Whilst these programs are not easy to watch, and the decisions taken by NHS and Social work employees can be easy to disagree with, I am delighted to see the issues raised and this growing area of our society getting some focus. We can’t afford to ignore these issues, nor ignore the huge costs making the wrong decisions. I was particularly impressed with the way Dr Peter Wallis handled the case of the Prices. In a very difficult situation he made sure they understood the experts views, listened to their concerns, and supported them in their final decision. Sadly it seems he is now retired, I hope there are some other outstanding clinicians out there calmly supporting other elderly patients with what is best for them.

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