Ensuring care services in Wales treat the elderly with dignity

"Every day of the year is a celebration of some cause or other - even the humble potato has its own national day on January 23.

The idea behind these national days and weeks is to highlight the importance of a particular cause. The more obscure the cause, the better to capture the media's imagination and the public's interest.

Last week it was World Elder Abuse day. Did we hear about it, did we do anything about it - did we even care?

In Wales we do. The Assembly Government has made known its policy to swiftly implement a Dignity and Respect in Care programme to improve patient experiences in health, social and domiciliary care services.

I know words can appear easy, so in May I announced £150,000 to support the Dignity and Respect in Care programme in Wales this year.

Since the launch of the programme in 2007, great progress has been made and we have developed considerable expertise in implementing this important agenda.

In time, many of us will become that older person or will be a relative or friend of an older person. I know from experience we will all expect respect and never to be subjected to harm or abuse.

It is a matter of changing attitudes so that abuse of older people is viewed in the same way as the abuse of children.

This funding will help to develop our plans for a network of Dignity in Care champions. I believe this initiative has the potential to make a considerable and sustainable impact across Wales.

A dignity champion is someone committed to taking action, however small, to create a care system that has compassion and respect for all.

Each champion's role will depend on their knowledge, influence and the type of work they are involved in. Champions will be instrumental in helping to make small but important local changes to improve the lives of older people in Wales.

Another essential consideration in treating someone with dignity and respect is the need to communicate, the sharing of information and ease of access to services.

Where Welsh is a patient's first language, service providers must ensure they have adequate provision to deal with this need. This also applies to older people from minority ethnic groups.

Over the past few years Dignity in Care has been recognised as a real issue in society. It is a major concern for Ruth Marks, the Commissioner for Older People, who has recently announced her first review will be the treatment of older people in hospital, especially in relation to dignity and respect.

All around the country, forums, exchange learning programmes and training courses are taking place to educate professionals providing the services.

Sharing information first hand, from the patient to the professional, is probably one of the most illuminating and effective ways of communicating the need for change.

Denbighshire Council recently held a Dignity in Care learning exchange event, with the aim of sharing and learning.

Older people from across the county joined Coun Bobby Feeley, Denbighshire's older people's champion, and professionals from the public and voluntary sectors to discuss their experiences of receiving and providing care.

We must all be vigilant because this current recession has the potential to affect health and care services through budget reductions.

Appreciating and valuing the needs of others - be they children, adults or older people - does not necessarily take money. But it does need a change in attitudes.

Highlighting these issues and improving the communication to create dialogue within Wales is probably the most effective way forward to achieve a national Dignity in Care programme that will work for all."