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J. Bonett Balzan, St Julian’s
Sunday, 06 September 2009
Domestic violence has many ugly heads. Could one of these be overmedication in nursing homes – another word for euthanasia in instalments? Rather than having a Swedish lady trying to tie us in legal knots and forcing us to legislate as lawful the reprehensible killing of the unborn, that is domestic violence at its maximum degree, how about the Swedes put their home in order first? A problem which has been festering in Sweden, and undoubtedly has its counterpart in other countries too, may happen to a somewhat lesser degree also locally. The problem is that of overmedication, which benefits the profit statements of pharmaceutical companies and their agents, and lines the pockets of some unscrupulous healthcare workers; while allowing some of those on shift duty to doze off while being paid, supposedly for keeping a sharp look-out of their charges!
An online report published in Sweden, on 19 March stated: “Overmedication of the elderly in Sweden’s nursing homes continues to be a problem, according to a new report by the National Board of Health and Welfare. A fresh report to be presented by the agency shows that more than 40% of nursing home residents in Sweden are on antidepressants. The agency now plans to issue new guidelines and advice to municipalities and county health authorities responsible for operating the country’s nursing homes. We’re very surprised, considering that Socialstyrelsen (health agency) has been shouting rather loudly for several years and very clearly pointing out that the problem remains,” said Christer Neleryd, who heads the agency’s division for the elderly, to Sveriges Radio. “When it comes to medication and especially medicines’ effects on the elderly, there is a lack of competence at all levels, from doctors down to nurses and nursing assistants.” The health board has long warned that patients living in Sweden’s nursing homes are given more medication than necessary and the new report shows the situation hasn’t changed much. Currently, nearly 15% of those aged 80 or older take ten or more medicines. While the figure represents only a marginal increase from 2005, the agency had hoped for a decrease. Of particular concern are figures showing that residents in nursing homes were administered more than twice as many psychopharmacological drugs than older Swedes who live at home. According to John Fastborn, an expert on the elderly and drugs with the health board, one of the reasons behind the overmedication of nursing home residents is that personnel at the facilities claim surprisingly they don’t know how to manage patient’s symptoms – and this from supposedly qualified personnel. The agency plans to issue new guidelines later this year. While the new rules are still under development, Socialstyrlesen hopes these will lead to more careful administration of medicines to nursing home residents, and the discontinuation of drugs which are no longer necessary or not having the desired effects for the patients taking them. But without proper oversight, what might transpire is that this problem is swept under the carpet or that, next time round, figures supplied would be fiddled with to shy attention away from the culprits. So much for caring for patients’ rights!