Hospitals are “very bad places” for the elderly and more needs to be done to treat people in the community.

That is the view of the new independent head of the NHS – and it is a stance that has now been backed by charities in Hampshire.

Sir David Nicholson leads the NHS Commissioning Board, which is set to take over the day-to-day running of the NHS from the Department of Health in April. He has likened treatment of elderly people in hospitals to the “national scandals” in the 1960s and 1970s surrounding the treatment of mental health patients in asylums.

He added: “If you think about the average general hospital now, something like 40 per cent of the patients will have some form of dementia. They are very bad places for old, frail people. We need to find alternatives.”

His calls for changes in how the older generation are cared for have been echoed by pensioners groups across the region.

Anne Carty, director of Age Concern Southampton, says more could be done to treat people in the community – but care in hospitals also needs to be improved, adding: “From the experience of many elderly people we come into contact with, they go into hospital and invariably suffer a decline in mental and physical health.

“There are very recent cases – people are left in bed for what could be several weeks, losing the power of their muscles, which leads to their mobility significantly going down.

“And their general well being also suffers if they’re not being cared for in hospital and mentally they decline as well. I think more needs to be done in the community and they need to improve care in hospitals.

“Hospitals generally do need to be more geared up for treating elderly people in a better way, a more dignified and caring way. But in society we have got to realise we have all got to do something to make our society a bit more dementia friendly, rather than just expecting the NHS to provide all the care.”

The spotlight on care for the elderly comes as the Daily Echo continues its Stay Warm campaign – focusing on keeping pensioners safe during the cold winter months.

Rick Smith, director of Age Concern Hampshire, says society as a whole could do more to help the elderly and those with dementia. He said: “It can be a daunting experience for anyone to go into hospital and for someone with dementia it’s catastrophic.

“The mental impact of being in hospital can be huge when what they have had physically wrong with them is quite minor, whereas if they had had the treatment in a GP surgery then life could have carried on as normal. I think GPs, community centres, community nurses and day care centres all have a part to play.”