PATRONISING language used by hospital and care home staff towards older people should be banned, a report on improving dignity in care has recommended.
Terms such as "old dear" and "bed blocker" must become as unacceptable as sexist or racist expressions, the report’s authors said.
They also called for medical and nursing students and other potential recruits who fail to show enough compassion towards older people to be barred from entering the health and care professions.
Hospital ward sisters meanwhile should play a leading role in ensuring dignified care for patients, the report said.
Issuing a call to end the "persistent failings" in the care system, the Commission on Dignity in Care said the care of older people required fundamental change.
Its draft report said: "Expressions such as ’bed blockers’ imply older people are a burden or a nuisance.
"Referring to them by illness reduces them to a clinical condition rather than recognising them as a person.
"And using patronising language such as ’how are we today dear?’ belittles them.
"Language that denigrates older people has no place in a caring society - particularly in caring organisations - and should be as unacceptable as racist or sexist terms."
Speaking at the report’s launch, Professor Trish Morris-Thompson of NHS London said she would expect to see "a form of redress" for anyone using such patronising language.
She added: "If someone says ’oh there’s an old dear in bed four’, that’s patronising."
Among the report’s 48 recommendations was a further proposal that universities and professional bodies "must satisfy themselves that applicants have both the academic qualifications and the compassionate values needed to provide dignified care".
In practice, this could mean students being turned down for medicine or nursing courses if they fail to meet a set of criteria showing they are sufficiently compassionate.
Under the proposals, nurses would be expected to take action if they felt patients were not receiving dignified care - whether this meant ensuring glasses of water were not placed beyond their reach or objecting to soggy toast being served to them.
"The leadership of the ward sister or charge nurse is crucial," the report said.
"They should know they have authority over care standards, dignity and wellbeing on their ward, expect to be held accountable for it, and take action they deem necessary in the interests of patients."
Katherine Fenton, of University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said the aim was to empower the ward sister so that "if she clicks her fingers and says ’I’m not happy about something’, it gets dealt with."