IT is a matter of great concern that too many hospitals in England are failing to provide the most basic care to elderly patients.

Out of 100 unannounced visits to hospitals, inspectors working for the Care Quality Commission discovered 55 cases where there were either outright failings or room for improvement.

It is, of course, important to remember than many of our hospitals are treating elderly patients well – and it is reassuring that North-East hospitals are not on the list of shame.

But the objective has to be to make sure that every elderly person can expect to be treated with dignity and compassion no matter which hospital they are taken to.

And if that is to be achieved, hospitals must be judged not just on the basis of tick-box efficiency, but on the actual human care they give to their patients.

It cannot just be about bed occupancy rates and throughput targets but must focus on the human beings who happen to occupy those beds.

That is why we have concerns about letting market forces loose on the National Health Service – because of the risk of efficiency targets overshadowing the quality of care.

Whatever the future holds for the NHS, there must be increased emphasis on unannounced inspections by independent and experienced inspectors which hold hospitals to account.

Going into hospital can be a frightening experience at any age but is a particular cause of anxiety for old folk. So let compassion and dignity carry more importance in our hospitals than efficiency and expediency.