A FRIEND reminded me of that well known poem about old age The Crabby Old Woman.

“In view of the recent unpleasant publicity about the dubious treatment of elderly people in hospital, is this worth an airing?” he said.

And yes, John, it probably is.

Health Service Ombudsman Ann Abraham reported last month that elderly patients had been left hungry and thirsty, in soiled clothes, without adequate pain relief or an emergency call button in reach. This followed a claim from Age UK that said up to a third of all older people admitted to hospital and care homes are at risk of malnutrition.

There have been other appalling stories about cases of abuse of the elderly in care homes but these, thankfully, are isolated. A short fall of care in some cases can be attributed to nurses being overworked and the NHS over-stretched.

But there is a suspicion that there is still a percentage of staff who do not see beyond the wrinkles, the dementia or the ageing process. They should, because it happens to all of us.

Best-selling author Deric Longden once told me that when his mother was in hospital towards the end of her life, he placed a photograph of her as a young woman next to her bed so that her nurses would see her in a different light.

The poem, The Crabby Old Woman, has been circulating for years. An urban legend grew that claimed it was found in the possessions of an old lady who died in a hospital in Dundee.

The poem was first published anonymously in a 1973 British book and the legend began. But it appears to have been written by Phyllis McCormack when she was working in a Scottish nursing home in the 1960s.

Whatever its origins, it makes its point with power and emotion, and remains relevant.