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NHS may collapse unless elderly give up hospital beds – Health Minister

Published time: May 14, 2013 15:59
Reuters / Toby Melville

Reuters / Toby Melville

Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) will collapse unless action is taken to improve care for elderly patients outside of hospitals to free up much needed beds for other inpatients, Health Minister Norman Lamb has warned.

Lamb said that the NHS is under huge pressure from an ageing population, with the number of elderly patients suffering chronic and complex health problems growing and that tackling it would be “the challenge of the 21st century.”

“Accident and Emergency [A&E] units are under pressure, ambulances are carrying more patients than they should, significant numbers of people are in hospital who should be cared for elsewhere. The system is becoming dysfunctional and we need to do something about it,” Lamb told the Telegraph.

While one of Britain’s most senior A&E doctors, Dr. Cliff Mann, from the College of Emergency Medicine, said that they had begun to feel like “war zones,” and that many doctors were turning their backs on emergency medicine. 

The current funding system where hospitals have a financial incentive to hang on to patients is at the heart of the problem and currently there is no reward for a hospital to get patients to leave.

In an attempt to address the issue, minsters will announce Tuesday plans to co-ordinate NHS services and councils to make sure than more is done to organize home-help for elderly patients or make basic adaptations to their home so that they can return there rather than languishing in hospitals.

Reuters / Suzanne Plunkett

A series of pilot schemes will be set up to test more joined up ways for health and social care providers to work together. The plan is that the schemes will be expanded to every part of the country by 2015.

“At the moment the system is horribly fragmented and that means bad care – distress, crises occurring that could be avoided, massive disruption to people’s lives. If we carry on as we are the system will collapse,” said Lamb.

Hospital regulators have also announced a review of the NHS funding system to encourage hospitals to release patients earlier.

Other plans which could be implemented under the review include giving elderly patients their own personal NHS worker who would manage all their care needs including home help and physiotherapy, as well as medical treatment.

While the system of paying doctors for completing specific activities will also be overhauled so that they are only rewarded for actual improvements in a patient’s health.

Lamb’s announcement comes just days after David Prior, the head of the UK’s Care Quality Commission (CQC), the leading UK health watchdog, said that acute beds for the elderly must be closed and that admissions through A&E are out of control.

Robert Francis QC, who conducted the review into failings at the Mid-Staffordshire NHS trust, which led to the deaths of 1,200 people between 2005 and 2009, told the Nursing Times that while doctors and hospital managers understood that serious changes need to be made, certain members of the nursing profession were not taking the problem seriously enough.