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Lack of Essential Care Services Means Elderly Patients are Stuck in Hospitals

By Solicitor, Court of Protection

Elderly patients are facing increasing difficulties in accessing essential care services, meaning they are “trapped” in hospital with nowhere to go.

Age UK found that, over the last five years, patients spent almost 2.5 million days stuck on NHS wards because a shortage of care support services outside the hospital meant they couldn’t be discharged.

The “bed-blocking” crisis – and the denial of essential care services caused by it – is extremely distressing for both patients and their families. It’s also causing the NHS to waste huge amounts of money that could be spent elsewhere – Age UK confirmed that the NHS spent £669 million over the last five years caring for elderly patients in hospital when they should have normally been discharged had the care services they required been available to them.

Social Care Cuts and a System Struggling to Cope

Sweeping cuts to essential care services over the past few years have left the care system struggling to cope.

From a lack of care home places to a shortage of district nurses to help people in their own homes, the “crisis in social care” is getting worse, according to Age UK, with the number of elderly people being kept in hospital up 19% on last year.

Half a million vulnerable elderly people are literally stuck in NHS wards because they can’t get a place in a home, or they can’t return to their own home because there isn’t the care available for them.

With £1bn likely to be cut from social care services this year, I fear this situation can only get worse.

More Social Care Funds Needed to Ease the Bed Blocking Crisis

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) have echoed calls from NHS England for more social care funds to be urgently allocated to councils.

Age UK are rightly concerned at hospital stays being much longer than they need to be. As Caroline Abrahams, Director of Age UK, puts it, "Why waste precious NHS resources in this way when it would be so much better to fund social care properly instead?”

Directing more money to essential care services would not only “unblock the beds” in NHS hospitals, enabling them to operate more efficiently, but would mean elderly people would get the essential care services they need much sooner.

The UK has an ageing population, with government research estimating that, by 2026, over a quarter of people living in England and Wales will be over the age of 65. The number of people requiring social care will only increase, so it’s crucial that funds are protected to deliver the services required and halt the increasing pressures on our hospitals.

An improved working relationship between the NHS and care providers is envisaged with the introduction of the Care Act this year. The Act also emphasises the importance of user-led care services, meaning that people in need of care services should drive the assessment and planning of the care they need.

Let’s hope that the opportunities offered by the Care Act to improve social care for the elderly aren’t going to be lost in the face of increasing spending cuts.

Liz Perry is a Human Rights Lawyer in Slater and Gordon’s Court of Protection team and specialises in community care and disability rights

For more information or a free consultation, call Slater and Gordon Lawyers 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online.

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