NHS statistics released today show that the year-on-year increase in the number of elderly people choosing to die at home continues to escalate. In the 12 months ended October 2011, the number rose to 49%, a massive 73% increase on the same period the year before.
In its report, the NHS attributes the rise to the government's much-heralded return to family values, explaining that the elderly now prefer to spend their final days comforted in the bosom of the family.
Independent observers, however, have given different views.
A spokesperson for Help the Aged suggested that among other, more complex factors, is the difficulty of obtaining transport to the nearest hospital, which could be many miles away. "We know of one 83-year-old lady who was found dead by her front door four days after her GP told her an ambulance was on its way."
In another example of many cases reported by the charity, a 67-year-old man died from dehydration while holding in a telephone queue so as to speak with an out-of-hours health advisory service about sudden-onset diarrhoea. "Telephone company records showed that the poor sod spend £490 holding on for three-and-a-half days," said the spokesperson.
Reports from bereaved relatives also cast a different picture to the National Health's official line. Brothers Ted and James Harkworth of Tadcaster described how their grandfather, a veteran of the second world-war Arnhem bridge battle, said: "I've been here before, holding on with multiple fractures and against the odds for support that's five days overdue," and shot himself with his service revolver.
An NHS source conceded that "Such tragic stories are most regrettable, and our hearts are with the families and loved-ones left behind, but you have to admit that the individuals concerned didn't have to put up with the final indignation of waiting for treatment in an A&E corridor."