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Dysfunctional NHS Under Pressure From Elderly Bed Blocking

In an Interview with the Daily Telegraph today, Norman Lamb stated that the UK elderly population is pushing the NHS to the brink of collapse, branding the organisation “dysfunctional” with a huge problem with bed blocking.

As we have mentioned in previous articles, the number of over 80 year olds being admitted into hospital has risen by nearly 40% in the last two years. With the number of people over 65 set to increase by 60% by 2031, solutions to this problem need to be found… and fast.

The issue is of course UK wide, although some areas have a higher density of an ageing population than others. For example, in the south west of England 39% of the population are over 50 and Wales comes a close second at 37%. London however is far less at just 26% and is predicted to have the slowest growth in this age category over the next 18 years according to the Office for National Statistics.

Mr Lamb has stated that the ageing population presents the greatest challenge to the NHS in the 21st Century and has identified some areas where pressure can be released within NHS wards.

The key is to reduce bed blocking – which occurs mainly with elderly patients who stay in hospital for an extended period of time as there is no other suitable place for them to go where they can be looked after. By assisting elderly patients to be able to return to their own homes, perhaps with the use of technology, bed places can be released for those that urgently require hospital treatment. Telehealth is being muted as a way forward, but the reality of the situation is that mass adoption of this technology is proving very slow in the NHS.

Simple, readily available technologies such as Telecare, or sometimes referred to as careline, are a very low cost way to allow elderly patients to be discharged from hospital and return home. The careline alarm simply plugs into the home phone line, with the user being able to move around their home and garden whilst wearing a wireless pendant. If the user experiences any difficulties, they simply have to press the pendant alarm and they are connected to a 24/7 monitoring service, where a highly trained operator can find out the problem and provide immediate assistance. A careline alarm enables patients to be discharged from hospital earlier than normal, return to their own homes and yet feel secure in the knowledge that help is at hand if they require it. Careline services are readily available, many Local Authorities provide such as service for their residents whilst there are national providers such as TeleCare24 who provide this service to anyone throughout in the UK, including Northern Ireland.

TeleCare24 already works closely with many healthcare professionals helping patients leave hospital and enjoy the comforts of their own home, which eases the bed blocking situation in hospital wards. If a patient is referred to us from a discharge nurse or other healthcare professional, the patient is provided with a careline alarm within 24 hours and is free for the first four weeks. After this time the patient can then decide to return the unit or they can continue to use it for a small weekly fee.

Mrs Aldridge from Nottingham who received a TeleCare24 careline alarm under its Community Alarm Scheme after being discharged from hospital said,” To be able to return to my own home felt so good and I feel I improved far better at home. I was a little nervous coming home on my own, but to be honest; knowing I had a careline alarm installed and that I’d be able to get help if I needed it was a great comfort. Although I’m much better now, I’ve decided to keep the pendant alarm for peace of mind!”

It’s estimated that around 4 million people would actually benefit from having a careline alarm in their home –only 1.5 million are so far using the service. Maybe it’s time the NHS really pushed this technology. The potential savings to the NHS are well documented, and whist we wait for Telehealth technology to be widely adopted, careline solutions may provide some immediate relief to those creaking NHS wards.

It’s also been suggested that adaptations within the home may also help elderly people return home early from hospital. There is a whole array of Daily Living Aids that can help people and we will take a more detailed look at some of these in a future article.

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