As winter approaches and the chance of falling ill runs higher, elderly people who are prone to infection will increasingly be admitted to hospitals for conditions that could either be prevented or treated effectively at home.
A new report from Age UK has warned that poor community services and a lack of social care provided to the elderly by local authorities, who have had their budgets slashed in recent years, will result in a huge rise in hospital admissions. The NHS – already stretched to breaking point – cannot cope with the extra pressure and alternative ways of treating the elderly need to be made use of.
Last week, Matthew Winn, chair of the NHS Confederation Community Health Services Forum, announced that community health services should play a crucial role in reducing some of the winter pressure on hospitals. By working closely with GPs, community health staff can bring care into the local area so minor infections and ailments are treated early and effectively before they progress, and so people are supported with the day to day care they need. This would also bring complex care out of hospitals and ensure NHS money is used wisely.
Care at home is also an invaluable service. It can save people money, prevent further progression of illness and avoidable hospital admissions, and provide advice and support for patients on how to stay healthy and safe. Care is also tailored to individual needs and provided in the comfort of their own home, thus easing pressure on hospitals.
Under increased pressure, which will only worsen as the population continues to age, the NHS needs to be supported by other outlets to help meet the growing demand for care. Health services provided by the community and care at home should be used effectively to play a significant part in easing pressures not only over the winter, but for the longer term.
The NHS alone cannot meet the needs of an ageing population. More care needs to be retracted from hospitals and placed locally, taking on a more personalised approach to solve the current health care crisis. But this can only happen with adequate levels of funding in place and the government must consider this as part of an overarching approach to health and social care.