The cultural representation of older people:\ud ageism and the National\ud Health Service
Read, Simon Mark
The care of older people in the hospital setting has been the subject of increasing scrutiny from policymakers, researchers, philosophers and age campaigners over the last twenty years. However, in spite of continued attention in organisational training, dignity campaigns and government policy, reports of undignified care continue to surface through notable incidents such as the Mid Staffordshire Public Inquiry. This study examined the role that the cultural representation of older people may have on the attitudes of NHS staff towards them, hypothesising that this influence can be as meaningful as that gathered in the work or social settings. The research adopted a mixed methods approach incorporating a national survey of NHS staff cultural consumption habits, multi-modal discourse analysis of cultural texts typically consumed by that population, and semi-structured interviews with NHS staff. The findings show that older people are generally underrepresented from large swathes of culture, and when represented there is a tendency towards either negative or positive stereotypes. Market trends and operational processes within the cultural industries help to explain the variation of representation on offer, with audience segmentation being a key factor in cases where older people were absent or negatively stereotyped. These representations were found to inform the interviewees’ perceptions of the older population, although this was also mediated by experiences gathered on the job, in training or through social engagement. While efforts are ongoing to foster intergenerational understanding in NHS organisational culture and local communities, the unique position of the cultural industries makes similar interventions in this field more challenging.