14 Jan 2015

Patient log jam in hospital? Send for the Red Cross

It is only 11 0’clock in the morning – mid week –  and there are already  two patients waiting on trolleys in the corridor at the Chesterfield Royal Infirmary.  The bays in the emergency department are  full. Like other hospitals across the country it has been a tough winter here.  More patients than ever have been attending A&E.

And like other hospitals ,  part of the problem has been a log jam caused by patients stuck in beds when they really are well enough to be discharged.

So the Royal has turned to the outside for help.  The British Red Cross.  They have been brought in to help with what is rather pejoratively called bed blocking.

Funded by the local clinical commissioning group, social services and the Cabinet Office, Red Cross staff and volunteers are helping take up to a dozen patients home every week.  They act as a sort of conduit between the ward and the home.  Indeed, the scheme is called Home from Hospital. They are not replacing social services.  Yet they are more than just tea and sympathy.14_redcross_w

Andrew Mullan, service manager for the Red Cross in Derbyshire, explained to us that it was low level support.  They go into the patient’s home and put the lights and heating on, of course make them a cup of tea, ensure they have their medication and some food.

Maybe they will do the shopping.  They will certainly stop and chat.  “Sometimes the patients are too scared to go home,” Mr Mullan said.  “They have been in hospital where they are safe and warm and have attention paid to them and then they face going back to a cold, dark house with no company.”

The patients they help with are not those who need high level support.  That still needs social care of some sort.  But it has become apparent this winter that the cuts to social services has had a major impact on hospitals.

In the health select committee today the president of the College of Emergency Medicine, Clifford Mann, said the recent A&E surge could fill another nine emergency departments. But he also said that 20,382 bed days were lost in December because of the need to find nursing homes or other suitable places in the community.

Yesterday, the head of the association of charity leaders – Acevo –  met senior officials at the Cabinet Office and Department of Health to discuss using the voluntary sector to help with winter pressures. And tomorrow charities will meet in London to draw up proposals for how this might happen.

Which in many ways puts the British Red Cross ahead of the game.

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