Third sector solution to ‘bed blocking’ crisis
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman report hit the headlines when it raised the spectre of vulnerable patients being sent home from hospital, alone and helpless, with many unprepared to fend for themselves again following injury or illness.
The report pulled no punches. It said some families had been left ‘devastated’ by the treatment of their relatives. It found distressing numbers of people were being discharged too soon – or being forced to stay in hospital because there was nowhere else for them to go. The report blamed poor planning and inadequate communication in terms of admissions, transfers and discharge policies.
It’s a scenario being played out across the country, and for many people the picture of their overall care is like a jigsaw puzzle with several significant pieces missing.
Enham Trust is one of the charities attempting to restore some of those missing pieces of the jigsaw. One chief concern raised by the Ombudsman report was the issue of ‘delayed transfer of care’, or bed blocking. When patients cannot be discharged from hospital because there is no suitable environment, with the necessary care, rehabilitation and therapy, for them to retreat to. Enham Trust, a disabled charity based in Hampshire, has just opened ten new residences designed for exactly this purpose. Each of the new Cedar Park Apartments is furnished, has a wet room, kitchenette with fridge and microwave, a private patio with rural views and storage facilities.
The apartments offer somewhere for patients to go, with short-term care packages structured around each individual. Three meals a day can be provided, as well as a range of therapies, support and activities. Care provision is available on site 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
The Cedar Park Apartments are available to people leaving hospital and needing a place to stay, while longer-term health and social care plans are put in place or necessary alterations are made to their homes so they can eventually move back. They can be paid for privately or with funding from the local authority.
But the shortcomings in care aren’t just affecting individuals; they’re having a huge impact on the NHS as a whole. In February, Lord Carter’s review of English acute hospitals revealed that 8,500 hospital beds were taken each year by medically-fit patients. This has a tangible knock on effect on the entire NHS, in terms of admissions and elective procedure rates. Bed blocking is threatening to bring some aspects of hospital care to a grinding halt.
Furthermore, this effect is compounded by pressure from an ageing population plus a confusing array of local medical services, which are often perceived as inaccessible, and Enham Trust’s Chairman Khalid Aziz believes it’s time to rethink the system. “The Carter Review estimates delays in discharging patients costs the NHS £900 million every year,” he said. “But that doesn’t alter the fact that these vulnerable people who are taking up the beds still need some form of treatment, constant care or support. You can’t free up the beds until an alternative form of care is in place.”
Chief Executive Peta Wilkinson added: “Everything is pointing to the fact that changes in the way we offer and deliver care are inevitable. At a time when there is clamour for change, third sector organisations like Enham Trust are in a unique position. They are at liberty to offer innovative and collaborate solutions for truly integrated care. They can maintain a vision whilst operating with agility and flexibility.
“Our specialist units offer a blueprint for other organisations. They offer a way for patients to have space, time and facilities to recover and return to independence in a safe, supportive environment. They give the patient’s family the confidence to know their loved one is receiving the support they need. A solution like this seems to me to be the logical way forward. We think we are offering one of the essential missing pieces of the jigsaw.”