Elderly people are suffering “fear and anxiety” during the Covid-19 outbreak, with some still being encouraged to sign do not resuscitate (DNR) orders, MSPs have been told.
Care homes and social care may have been treated as “a second-tier service” because of the rush to protect the NHS, according to evidence given to Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee.
It heard older people are living in fear they will be “left behind as everyone else is looked after” because of failures in the coronavirus response.
Despite repeated statements from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that people should not be pressured by healthcare workers to complete DNR requests, Age Scotland claims it is still happening.
The charity’s head of policy Adam Stachura said there are cases of DNR forms being “slipped into discharge notes” from hospital and administrative staff calling dementia patients about the agreements.
He said: “People didn’t know what the devil a DNR form was, and they thought what this meant was ‘we’re not going to get medical treatment, we’d be left to die if we get this’.”
Although he said the Scottish Government has been trying to “stamp it out”, Mr Stachura explained people are suffering “fear and anxiety that a virus is spreading to the country and they will be left behind as everyone else is looked after”.
He added: “I don’t think that has put us in a good light at all.”
Urging support for all people receiving social care, he said: “We’re all going to get older but a lot of us might need some extra help to be able to live.
“It’s not just about kind of surviving and existing, it’s about living.
“Care homes and social care has been shown as maybe being a second-tier service, or seen that way, and has maybe been treated at times in that way, in the rush to protect the NHS.
“Rightly so, but have we had the capacity to also protect social care when we needed it?”
Mr Stachura added some messaging from Government, the health service and councils “was a bit cack-handed”.
The Scottish Human Rights Commission’s chairwoman also criticised this “failure of the guidance” in the early stages of the crisis.
Judith Robertson said there was a lack of clear instructions for many as she called for future advice to “articulate explicitly what people’s rights are”.
She said the commission also had “significant human rights concerns” about blanket policies introduced in areas such as DNR requests, anticipatory care planning and “terrible examples” of complex, clinical and inappropriate language leaving patients confused and uniformed.
Referring to some clinical guidance, she said: “It needs to be translated into a form of English that people can really understand and, if it is going to be used in settings where people’s rights are going to be at stake, then it needs to be made available to people in a way that everybody can engage with it.”
Ms Robertson said there are still “big gaps” in the package of support available for some people.
She added: “We’re building on a situation where economic, social and cultural rights have been eroded systematically over a period of time.”
Following the evidence session, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “We have been clear that no-one should ever feel pressured in any way whatsoever into giving their consent to a ‘do not attempt CPR’ form.
“When difficult conversations are needed with people and their families regarding their care wishes, should they become seriously unwell, those discussions should always be handled with the utmost compassion, care and tact.
“The Covid-19 outbreak has brought about absolutely no change to the use of ‘do not attempt CPR’ forms in the Scottish NHS and no change to the advice issued to GPs about their use.”