Around 10,000 hospital beds occupied by elderly patients ready to go home but waiting for care

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Around 10,000 hospital beds are currently occupied by elderly people owing to a lack of available care workers to look after them at home, NHS leaders have warned.

Senior figures said hospitals were “grinding to a halt” because of a growing crisis in social care, which has left “staggering” numbers of frail and vulnerable people stuck on wards for weeks on end.

Experts said shortages of care home staff – with an estimated loss of around 70,000 such workers in six months – had left hospitals overcrowded, even before winter starts and amid fears the growth of the omicron variant could make things worse. 

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “From our conversations with NHS trust leaders we think around 1 in 10 beds are now occupied by people who are medically fit to be discharged; that’s around 10,000 beds.”

Before the start of pandemic, NHS trusts regularly published figures assessing the number of people – largely elderly – who were stuck in hospital, waiting for assessment, or help from care workers.

Since then, data publication has been stopped. But NHS trust leaders believe that the crisis has escalated sharply in recent months, and is now a major factor heaping pressures on hospitals.

Mr Hopson said: “Many of the risks that are most visible are at the front door of the hospital; the ambulance handover delays, the long trolley waits in accident and emergency departments.

“But this is very significantly driven by delays discharging patients from hospitals, and we really need to see radical action here. Hospitals need as much help as possible to tackle this in order to avoid them grinding to a halt.”

Staff leaving care sector for better-paid jobs

NHS Providers, which represents hospitals, has already called on ministers to offer bonuses of up to £1,000 to social care workers, warning that too many staff are opting for other sectors, such as hospitality, with more lucrative rewards.

Mr Hopson urged ministers to look again at the proposal, warning that NHS hospitals are now having to deploy their own staff to take on care duties in the community, in order to free up hospital beds.

He said that while the workforce crisis may have been exacerbated by the introduction of compulsory jabs for care workers, the vast majority of it seemed to be linked to more attractive rewards in other sectors.

NHS chiefs warned that long stays in hospital could lead to a significant deterioration in the long-term prospects of elderly patients.

It follows warnings that among the most elderly, a 10-day stay in hospital could equate to a decade’s ageing, in terms of lost muscle mass.

Last week ministers published a social care green paper, setting out a vision to reform the sector.

But charities and MPs said the plans lacked substance, with former health secretary Jeremy Hunt saying that without further measures and investment “we will continue to see hospital wards full of people who should be discharged and older people not getting the care they need”.

Government ‘starving social care of investment’

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, told The Telegraph: “The staggering numbers of older people now stuck in hospital when medically fit to leave are what happens when a Government starves social care of the investment it needs, of all times during a pandemic.

“Despite the appearance of government activity as regards social care this autumn, nothing fundamental has changed.”

Ms Abrahams said that since the Prime Minister’s pledge to “fix social care, once and for all” two years ago your situation has actually worsened.

“The Prime Minister may have announced a cap on sky high care costs, but no one will reach it until 2026, while the Care White Paper sets out a long term vision, but without any plan to achieve it. 

“Meanwhile, the key problems holding care back today remain almost entirely unaddressed: chronic shortages of public funds and of staff, and in fact both are getting worse.

“At Age UK we are hearing from more and more older people who can’t get care in their area, usually because there aren’t the people to provide it, so it isn’t just those in hospital who are struggling to access the support they need.”

Last week the directors of adult social services published data suggesting 400,000 older and disabled people are waiting for such assessments at home.

Mr Hopson said escalating problems in social care were compounding growing Covid pressures on hospitals, in a situation that is feared may worsen amid the spread of the omicron variant.

Hundreds of Covid patients stuck in hospital

Separately, an NHS whistleblower said health service figures suggest that hundreds of Covid patients are stuck in hospital, despite being medically well.

The NHS official told the Planet Normal podcast that around one in 10 Covid patients remain stuck on hospital beds for want of social care.

Latest figures show around 6,000 Covid patients in hospital in England.

But the senior official said around 750 these are medically fit for discharge, but stuck in hospital for lack of care at home, or a care home place – giving a false impression of how much of the pressure was caused by Covid.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said “We are working hard to support safe and timely hospital discharges, and have invested £478million to help get patients out of hospital and into the best place for their care and support to continue.

“Alongside this, we’ve supported care homes and providers with a £162.5million workforce retention and recruitment fund, put £500 million into boosting staff training, qualifications and wellbeing, and are continuing to help attract people into a career in care through our national social care recruitment campaign.”

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