NHS doctors and nurses are largely in the dark about how to get post-treatment elderly patients out of hospital beds and into social care, meaning a potentially overwhelming tidal wave of demand for care once medical professionals get to grips with the system.
The lack of clarity amongst doctors over how the UK social care system operates means that thousands of hospital beds are blocked by elderly people who would be better off being cared for at home or in residential care.
“The potential impact of this issue is not just that innocent ignorance exists, but what will happen when medical professionals are educated, and health and social care are finally integrated,” said Dr Ros Altmann, Director-General of over-50s lifestyle organisation Saga, which supports the Saga Respite for Carers Trust.
“It is important that they become better equipped to allow patients to leave hospital with suitable care cover, but Saga is concerned that there is a consequent risk of our care system being overwhelmed.
“In fact, there will come a tipping point when medical professionals understand the massively complex UK social care system, how to get elderly post-treatment people into it, and start to move older infirm people out of hospital beds and into care at a much faster rate.
“It is an element of NHS reform which has been overlooked: medical professionals need to be educated in how the social care system works – given the confusing array of approaches taken by different authorities - but, once they do, then elderly people will flow into the social care system faster and in greater volumes, which risks swamping home carers and residential care – but the upside is this will create a faster flow of NHS acute and elective patients into hospitals because of the increased availability of beds.
“The hospital bed log jam may be unwelcome, but it is convenient to the current capacity of the system. However, once the logjam is cleared, then demands upon different elements of the social care and healthcare systems further downstream will go beyond capacity.
“This is an issue which urgently needs to be factored in to the government’s current re-thinking on NHS reforms as realisation and significance dawns as to just how much work needs to be done on integration of health and social care.
“So frustrated are we at the lack of information about care that we have produced a free public information guide – astonishingly the only single-source guide in the UK – for both families and, indeed, medical professionals, who are trying to get to grips with the care system.”
The Saga Guide to Care is free and available from 0800 015 2084.
For more information please contact the Saga Press Office on 01303 771529.