Coalition of Charities Calls on Health Secretary to Take Immediate Action to Help Older People Get Home from Hospital

The National Care Forum (NCF) – leading association for not for profit care providers, along with five other charities and membership organisations have called on the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to take immediate steps to ensure that older people are not forced to remain in hospital longer than medically necessary this winter.

In an open letter to Sajid Javid, the National Care Forum, British Geriatrics Society, Age UK, Independent Age, Care England and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy have called for immediate steps to be taken to address the shortage of care workers to ensure that older people are able to access the care they need when they are discharged from hospital. This includes an immediate bonus and pay rise for staff working in social care and for care workers to be added to the Shortage Occupation List.

The letter highlights the stories shared through the British Geriatrics Society’s Timely Discharge campaign, illustrating the human impact on large numbers of older people in hospitals across the country who are medically fit for discharge but cannot access the care and rehabilitation they need to return home. A massive shortfall in available care staff means that older people are ending up stuck in hospital when they do not need to be there.

Hospital staff are currently caring for COVID patients while trying to address the backlog of patients who had treatment delayed during the pandemic. This is made even more challenging by having wards full of patients who are fit for discharge but who cannot access the care they need at home.  Care workers have worked tirelessly to support older people in care homes and at home through the immense challenges of the COVID pandemic. However, due to the combined effects of exhaustion, poor pay and conditions, Brexit restrictions and the imposition of mandatory vaccinations, they are now leaving the profession in significant numbers for better-paid jobs in other sectors.

By giving care staff a bonus and pay rise and by adding care workers to the Shortage Occupation List, we believe that the Secretary of State could bring a halt to the current exodus of care workers, ensuring social care is in place to enable older people to be discharged from hospital. This will ensure timely care, support and rehabilitation is provided in the right place, and also help to alleviate pressures in acute care, giving the NHS breathing space to get through the winter months. In the longer term, a sustainable plan for the recruitment, retention and support of the health and social care workforce providing care for older people is urgently needed.

Vic Rayner OBE, CEO of the National Care Forum said: ‘The pressure on people is immense. Shortages in the care workforce mean that people are not able to be in the place they call home and often are spending too long in hospital where they are unable to receive the care they need. There is no time for government to delay. If we fail to take decisive action to address this workforce crisis, then we fail the people and communities that we are all here to serve.’

Dr Jennifer Burns, President of the British Geriatrics Society, commented: ‘Our Timely Discharge blog series shares the desperate stories of individuals, families, clinicians, managers and care providers, to raise awareness of the damaging effects on all involved when older people who are ready to go home are trapped in hospital for want of social care. The NHS is currently under extreme pressure without the added challenge of people remaining in hospital who medically do not need to be there. It is vital that Sajid Javid takes immediate action to relieve the pressure on the NHS and on social care over the upcoming winter months.’

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said:  ‘Unfortunately, delayed discharges are back with a vengeance at a time when our hospitals are under unprecedented pressure from COVID-19 and treatment backlogs. These delays cause misery and distress to older people who cannot get home, and the principal reason for them is beyond dispute: a chronic and apparently growing shortage of care staff available to support older people when they leave hospital. The Government must get a grip on this situation and at least try and stop the situation from becoming worse, by putting more money into care workers’ pockets now. The other UK nations have already paid retention bonuses to care workers and the government in Westminster should follow suit.’