Every year in the UK, an estimated 8,000 people lose their lives due to a lack of beds available on NHS wards. But also at any one time there can be as many as 6,000 people in hospital beds who no longer require treatment, but are unable to be discharged due a lack of aftercare provisions in place. Whilst the number of beds is insufficient to meet demands, increasing their number is limited by the requirement to increase staff, and physical space as well as the great expense in doing so. Councils, as the bodies usually responsible for what falls under the remit of ‘social care’, are pressed to find a solution to the crisis of where patients should be moved to after they are well enough to leave but not yet capable of being completely independent.
Rehabilitation or recuperation wards exist in nursing homes around the UK, but they are usually targeted for the elderly or those with other pre-existing needs before their hospital stay. Equally the beds are in high-demand and low-supply. There is currently little in place to support those who are usually capable of managing their own care, but who need a period of time without the demands of living alone, such as cooking for themselves and company.
In Essex there has been talk of a trial of a scheme by a company called CareRooms, which would involve individuals renting out spare rooms in their homes for those who need this recuperation time. Involvement in the scheme would mean committing to cooking three microwaveable meals for individuals every day and providing company and a general reassurance to those staying with them. This has been a controversial idea, with many coming out against it, for a number of different reasons.
Primarily there have been concerns raised about safeguarding aspects of the scheme, particularly considering the vulnerable nature of those who will be using it. Care homes have been often criticised for negligence and abuse, and so the idea that this could be better controlled on an individual and private basis seems impossible. Harry Thirkettle, the Medical Director of CareRooms, has claimed, “Everyone’s immediate concern is, understandably, safeguarding. We are working hard to be better than standard practice. We are not going to start taking on patients until we have satisfied all these different organisations’ governance procedures and committees [NHS providers, commissioners and councils].” However, there will be large costs and time constraints associated with carrying out these checks.
The untrained public are to be asked a lot beyond merely providing microwave meals and conversation – they will need to understand areas of the law surrounding Mental Capacity, food hygiene, cleanliness and some level of First Aid. Asking this much of the public is asking for trouble – Care Homes have a whole team providing care to individuals, and this leads to shared responsibility, decision-making and ability to recognise when problems arise.
For some this scheme is yet another move towards privatisation and the movement away from what the NHS originally stood for. Those who have the ability to pay for this themselves will be prioritised by the scheme as it reduces the financial burden on the government and councils, leading to a wealth inequality between those who can and can’t pay. Some of these criticisms are politically based, against the Conservatives who many feel haven’t put enough consideration or funding into Social Care or the NHS. However, nearly everyone can agree that when a majority of these beds are ‘blocked’ by elderly people, and the ageing population being a growing and long-term problem, there needs to be a long term solution. Buying into this scheme may sweep the issue under the carpet, but it needs proper solutions which can be implemented nationwide and last for years to come.