An interesting enquiry came into our postbag last month, from a volunteer Nursing Home visitor who was concerned to see that residents in the dementia unit she visited seemed to be sitting on hoist slings draped over their chairs for long periods of time, and wondered whether this was acceptable. I responded that some slings were intended to remain under the user for periods of time, and that for some patients, the pain and distress of transfers was such that remaining on the sling rather than being lifted off it might be the lesser evil. I suggested that she find out from the home management what the rationale behind the decision was, so that she could be sure that the best interests of the residents was being put first, and I also offered to forward her enquiry to industry experts who could give her a more detailed response.
To be honest, I was not expecting to hear more on the subject, but then this was my first communication with Jill Leslie, who has turned out to be not only deeply concerned about the well-being of a group of people who are often not able to protect their own interests effectively, but also an uncommonly energetic investigator!
It transpired that residents were sitting on their slings since the occasion of a fatal hoisting accident, when one of them had fallen while being transferred, and subsequently died.
Social Services, together with the relevant sling supplier and manufacturer, and the community OT decided that rather than risk a further such incident, it would be safer to leave the slings in situ, for residents who required regular hoisting.
Jill's investigation into care industry/expert attitudes to this is published in the hoisting section on Independent Living, and makes interesting reading: Sling High – Sling Low
The clearest message to emerge is that there is no consensus on this subject. Some people would have a “zero tolerance" approach to leaving slings in place, while others point to technical developments in fabric to protect from pressure damage, allied with the distress occasioned by frequent transfers.
Everybody, of course, is in agreement that the interests of the patient must be paramount, but how to ensure this? In this particular Home, poor staff training and language difficulties were some of the factors, apparently, which made it safer to leave residents sitting on slings, rather than moving them. So perhaps more professional standards and greater value given to the work of carers would be a good place to start. But I fear that at a time when local authority budgets are under more pressure than ever, and even the biggest, most efficiently run care home operations find it hard to operate profitably, the idea of developing a cadre of well-trained, highly valued, professional staff will find few takers.
Meanwhile, the most vulnerable in society pay the price.
What you think? Several organisations contributed their opinions to Jill's report, and you can add your comments here, whether you are a supplier; working as a carer; someone who needs assistance to transfer from one place to another; or indeed a friend or relative of someone in this situation.