Jane Bates: Ethical abyss

Safeguarding stops short for Jane Bates.

Safeguarding stops short for Jane Bates

Mrs P is becoming increasingly disturbed by what she perceives to be her husband’s developing dementia. Most of the time he is just a bit vague, but at times he flies into out-of-character rages that terrify her and make her fear for her own safety.

Her adult children (who don’t know the half of it) urge her to go to the GP for help, but apart from offering sympathy and support in a crisis, the doctor can do nothing because of patient confidentiality.

He suggests bringing the husband to the surgery. Mrs P knows half the pigs in the country will be airborne before he agrees to visit the ‘quack’. He has not been for 40 years and the change in his mental state makes him even less biddable. She is getting on a bit herself and is in poor health. So what can she do?

I have heard several similar stories over the past year or so, and there have been other accounts from the families of those who are depressed or drinking heavily.

When they ask me for advice, I can only suggest charities and helplines, which are wonderfully supportive but whose scope, of course, is limited.

There seems to be an ethical abyss into which these families fall, which must cause heartache for conscientious GPs and despair for relatives.

With dementia on the rise, perhaps there should be a rethink of priorities, especially if children or vulnerable adults – probably most people as they get older – live in the same household.

Perhaps this could be put under the umbrella of ‘safeguarding’. Surely the person living with dementia, addiction or depression needs safeguarding as much as anyone else, as do their families.

As things stand now, common sense and compassion seem to be stifled by rules that make no allowance for the complexities of real life.

About the author

Jane Bates

Jane Bates is an ophthalmic nurse in Hampshire

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