Reports in the Daily Telegraph suggest NHS bosses believe elderly patients are refusing to give up their hospital beds, for fear of the financial repercussions of going into a care home. This paints a very disturbing picture of the state of the nation’s elderly care provision, and the impact this has on wider health and social care services. According to health chiefs, the number of elderly people who are fit to leave hospital but choose to remain has increased by 15% over the past 12 months alone, an enormous jump in a relatively short space of time.
This steep rise illustrates just how concerned the elderly are about the cost of care to them and their families. Research from Prestige Nursing has repeatedly shown that these costs are getting out of control; average care home fees now reach as high as £34,000 in some regions, and the national average has risen by 2.5% in just one year. Worryingly, these costs are now rising at a faster rate than pensioners’ incomes – despite the fact care homes are already double the typical income. Faced with such enormous costs, it is little wonder the elderly are reluctant to leave hospital. The government’s decision to postpone the cap on care fees until 2020 will do little to change this problem, irrespective of whether it is right or wrong.
Furthermore, these reports also signify the impact that a poorly funded social care sector can have on wider services. This past November 153,000 days were lost in NHS hospitals to “bed blockers,” whose needs could have been met through alternative means, such as social care. Not only does bed blocking reduce the availability of vital services to other vulnerable people, it also demonstrates that by trying to cut costs in one area of health and social care the government simply shifts the burden to another. Simply put, cuts to social care funding are directly responsible for a large portion of the NHS’ financial difficulties.
Unless the government is willing to provide solutions to the financially ruinous costs of care homes, or strengthen the provision of social care significantly, the number of elderly people reluctant to give up hospital beds is only going to increase. This is a lose-lose situation for all involved, with the health sector wasting resources, the elderly stuck unnecessarily – and most likely, uncomfortably – in hospitals, and other would-be patients denied full access to care.