This article was originally posted on Left Foot Forward.
This week, the Guardian reported doctors warning that thousands of hospital patients in later life are being made to stay in hospital for longer than they need to, because of inadequate provision of residential care or care at home. In this survey of 502 doctors, 50 per cent reported that the ‘bed blocking’ situation was worse than a year ago. With significant cuts to council funding, it’s feared that next year’s results won’t be any better.
At Age UK, we’re saddened, but not surprised, by the figures collated by the Guardian and Doctors.net.uk. We’ve been consistently arguing that one of the many unpleasant outcomes of failing to invest in good-quality social care for older people, both at home and in residential care settings, is that people end up staying in hospital unnecessarily. Our ‘Don’t cut care’ campaign is calling on local councils up and down the country to use the additional funds allocated to maintain their care budgets and ensure that older people are able to access the care services they need.
Being forced to stay in hospital longer than you have to has significant consequences for people’s wellbeing. Very few people would choose to stay in hospital longer than absolutely necessary, no matter how high the level of care. Extended hospital stays, particularly unnecessary ones, can be very distressing both for the patients themselves and for their families, friends and carers.
There’s a serious financial imperative to stopping bed blocking also. The Commons Public Accounts Committee has previously estimated that bed blocking costs the NHS £170m every year. An NHS hospital bed costs the NHS around £1,750-2,100 for a week’s stay. In contrast, the average cost of residential care is just under £500 a week, while nursing homes cost around £700 a week. Providing social care at home, such as helping older people with eating and washing, costs on average around £208 per week. Good quality post-discharge services are vital to support older people who are recovering and re-establishing their independence at home, but even with these additional costs, the overall figure for care at home is significantly lower than the cost of keeping older people in hospital.
It’s about time that councils really invested in care services for older patients healthy enough to leave hospital. Ending ‘bed blocking’ will create significant savings within the NHS budget. It will ensure that patients who need acute services can gain access more easily. As importantly, it affords more dignity to older patients, the largest NHS user group, by enabling them to recover from illness or surgery in a more suitable environment.